Alcohol is a prevalent substance in our society. People often drink at social gatherings, at holiday parties, or when socializing with coworkers at the end of a long week. According to a survey in 2019, 85.6% of people over the age of 18 drink alcohol at some point in their lives. Since it’s so normalized, it can be difficult to know whether drinking has become a problem for you. However, understanding the difference between social drinking, problem drinking, and alcoholism can help you know what to look for in your behavior. It can also help you identify problems in loved ones.
Drinking alcohol for social reasons can come in many forms. Sometimes it looks like attending a co-worker’s birthday party or celebrating New Year’s Eve with a glass of champagne. There is no set limit to the amount of alcohol consumed for it to be defined as social drinking. However, the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) defines moderate drinking this way: for men, two or fewer drinks per day, and for women, one or fewer drinks per day is moderate drinking
Common signs of social drinking include the following:
- Alcohol use for enjoyment
- Celebratory drinks
- Being responsible, for example, having a designated driver
- Knowing when to stop using alcohol
- Not getting overly intoxicated or blacking out
- Using alcohol for an occasion, generally not every day
Different from alcoholism, problem drinking does not mean you have an alcohol addiction. However, it does mean that your use of alcohol can cause issues in your life. Your use may be associated with problems that commonly occur around alcohol use such as risky or unhealthy behaviors.
Problem drinking often causes issues in your life. Signs include the following:
- Needing alcohol to feel comfortable in certain situations
- Escaping from problems by drinking alcohol
- Missing work due to your drinking
- Emotional outbursts
- Depressive episodes
- Increased risk while drinking that impacts yourself, your children, or others
- Blacking out
- Losing relationships
- Getting arrested or other legal issues
- Financial problems due to purchasing alcohol or decisions made while drinking
Many of these issues can also occur with alcohol addiction. However, they don’t always. The hallmark of problem drinking is the impact that it has on your life. Just because you notice that you do not have a physical alcohol dependence, it does not mean there isn’t an issue. Recognizing these issues and getting help is essential regardless of whether you just have problematic drinking habits or full-blown addiction.
Alcohol Use Disorder
In contrast to problem drinking, alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a physical addiction. AUD impacts the brain and causes changes that result in a lack of ability to control alcohol use. According to a survey in 2019, nearly 15 million people over the age of 12 have AUD. Because of the physical changes AUD causes in the brain, symptoms look different when compared with behavioral issues associated with alcohol.
Addiction is different than problem drinking. While individuals in the two categories may have similar drinking habits, those with AUD will experience dependence on alcohol and have withdrawal symptoms when they’ve gone without alcohol for a time. The signs of alcohol withdrawals include the following:
- Unusual heart rate
Similar to problem drinking, behaviors related to AUD impact multiple areas of your life. For many, AUD can impact their ability to successfully do their work, keep their work commitments, and communicate well with coworkers and family.
Signs Your Drinking Has Become a Problem
Alcohol is a well-integrated part of our society. It has become so accepted in social situations that problems with alcohol can remain hidden. However, there is a distinction between alcohol use in a social setting and physical dependence or problem drinking. Signs that it has become a problem for you may include the following:
- Alcohol use is disrupting your ability to show up to work
- Alcohol impacts your focus or ability to work well
- You feel a sense of need—emotional or physical—to drink
- Alcohol use is affecting others around you, such as your coworkers, spouse, or children
The distinction can be challenging to make. If you are not sure whether your use of alcohol is an issue, it is important to get help.
Regardless of whether your alcohol use is simply problematic or a physical addiction, getting help is vital. Research shows that binge drinking and heavy alcohol use can increase a person’s chances of AUD. That’s why getting help can prevent further issues from developing down the road.
What’s the best approach for addressing alcohol problems? Each individual will require different treatment approaches. While some people may benefit from therapy alone, others will need help to solve physical dependency issues. Regardless, if you feel your alcohol use is a problem, there are many options for getting support. Finding a treatment center that suits your needs is most important. When you connect with a knowledgeable, compassionate team that’s dedicated to helping you use alcohol responsibly or stop drinking altogether, you can increase your success at work and your overall life satisfaction.
Drinking alcohol is extremely normalized in our society, especially when it comes to work-related events. Understanding if and when your drinking has become a problem can feel challenging. At Pacific Sands Recovery Center, we help working professionals obtain the individualized treatment they need. We offer many types of services that vary from assisted detox to residential addiction treatment and addiction therapy. We help clients make sustainable changes in their lives that benefit their lives personally and professionally. If you are uncertain about your drinking habits, we can help. Call us today at (949) 426-7962 to speak to a staff member about your needs and how we can help you.