When Is It Social Drinking And When Is It Alcoholism?
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When Is It Social Drinking And When Is It Alcoholism?

The difference between social drinking and alcoholism lies in the relationship with alcohol. Social drinking involves moderate, controlled consumption for leisure or socializing. Alcoholism, on the other hand, is characterized by an inability to control drinking, leading to dependence, cravings, and negative consequences. In this blog, we will explore the difference between the two.




Table of Contents

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What Is Social Drinking?

What Makes Someone An Alcoholic?

What Gets Someone To Go From A Social Drinker to Become An Alcoholic?

If I Think I May Be An Alcoholic, How Do I Get Help?






What Is Social Drinking?


Social drinking is a term used to describe the consumption of alcoholic beverages in a casual and moderate manner during social interactions, gatherings, or events. It is characterized by individuals drinking alcohol in a responsible and controlled manner, often for the purpose of enhancing social experiences, relaxation, or bonding with others.


Social drinkers typically consume alcoholic beverages in a way that allows them to stay within their limits, avoiding excessive or binge drinking.


This type of drinking is usually characterized by individuals having one or two drinks, such as a glass of wine or a beer, and maintaining a level of awareness and control over their alcohol intake. It is not driven by the need to escape from problems or cope with stress, but rather by the desire to enjoy the taste of alcoholic beverages and the conviviality of social interactions.


Social drinking is associated with responsible and safe alcohol consumption, promoting moderation and the avoidance of negative consequences related to excessive drinking, such as health issues and impaired judgment. It is essential to be aware of one’s own alcohol tolerance, adhere to legal drinking age restrictions, and respect personal and societal boundaries when engaging in social drinking.



Social Drinking or Alcoholism?

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto


What Makes Someone An Alcoholic?


Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a chronic and progressive disease characterized by an inability to control alcohol consumption despite negative consequences. It involves a strong craving for alcohol, an increased tolerance to its effects, and withdrawal symptoms when not drinking. Alcoholism can have severe physical, psychological, and social consequences.


Key signs and symptoms of alcoholism may include:

    • Craving: An intense and uncontrollable desire for alcohol.
    • Loss of Control: The inability to limit alcohol consumption once drinking begins, often leading to drinking more than intended.


    • Physical Dependence: Experiencing withdrawal symptoms, such as tremors, nausea, or anxiety when not drinking.


    • Tolerance: Needing more alcohol to achieve the desired effects over time.


    • Neglecting Responsibilities: Prioritizing alcohol use over work, school, or family obligations.


    • Social and Interpersonal Problems: Alcoholism can strain relationships, lead to conflicts, and social isolation.


    • Loss of Interest: Reduced interest in activities and hobbies that were once important.


    • Continued Use Despite Consequences: Drinking despite knowledge of its negative impact on health, relationships, and life in general.


    • Failed Attempts to Quit: Repeated efforts to cut down or quit drinking are unsuccessful.



Alcoholism is a complex condition influenced by genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. It can have severe health consequences, including liver disease, heart problems, and mental health issues. Treatment for alcoholism often involves a combination of behavioral therapies, support groups, and, in some cases, medication.


The goal is to help individuals achieve and maintain sobriety, improve their quality of life, and address the underlying causes of their alcohol use disorder. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcoholism, seeking professional help is essential.





What Gets Someone To Go From A Social Drinker to Become An Alcoholic?


The transition from being a social drinker to an alcoholic is a complex process influenced by various factors, and it can vary from person to person. While not everyone who consumes alcohol socially will develop alcoholism, there are some common factors and patterns that can contribute to this progression:

    1. Genetics: A family history of alcoholism can increase the risk of developing the condition. Genetic factors may predispose some individuals to have a lower tolerance for alcohol, making them more susceptible to addiction.


    1. Binge Drinking: Regularly engaging in binge drinking, where an individual consumes a large amount of alcohol in a short time, can increase the risk of developing alcoholism. It can lead to physical and psychological dependence over time.


    1. Mental Health Issues: Co-occurring mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, or trauma, can drive individuals to self-medicate with alcohol. This can eventually lead to dependence and addiction.


    1. Social and Environmental Factors: Peer pressure, a social environment that encourages heavy drinking, or a culture that normalizes excessive alcohol use can play a role in the progression from social drinking to alcoholism.


    1. Stress and Coping Mechanisms: When individuals use alcohol as a means of coping with stress or emotional difficulties, it can lead to increased consumption and, ultimately, dependence.


    1. Traumatic Events: Experiencing traumatic events, such as loss, abuse, or accidents, can trigger an increase in alcohol consumption as a way to escape or numb emotional pain.


  1. Neurobiological Factors: Alcohol affects the brain’s reward system, and for some individuals, it can lead to changes in brain chemistry, making them more susceptible to addiction.


It’s important to note that alcoholism is a progressive condition. What might start as occasional social drinking can gradually evolve into more frequent and excessive consumption, leading to dependence and addiction over time. Recognizing the signs of problematic alcohol use and seeking help early can make a significant difference in preventing the progression to alcoholism. If you or someone you know is concerned about their alcohol consumption, it’s essential to seek professional guidance and support.


If I Think I May Be An Alcoholic, How Do I Get Help?


Getting help for alcoholism is a critical and transformative decision. Acknowledging the issue and its impact on your life is the crucial first step. Often, confiding in a trusted friend or family member can provide a support system as you embark on the journey to recovery.


Consulting a healthcare professional, particularly one with expertise in addiction, is a pivotal next move. They can assess the severity of your alcohol use disorder and offer guidance on treatment options. This may involve outpatient therapy, inpatient rehabilitation, detoxification, or medication-assisted treatment. It’s essential to follow their recommendations.


Additionally, support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and SMART Recovery offer peer-based support and structured programs for recovery. Working with your treatment provider, you can develop a personalized recovery plan, including strategies for managing cravings, identifying triggers, and setting goals for a sober, healthier life.


If you think you may have a drinking problem, consider getting a Chemical Health Assessment. In Minnesota, they may be referred to as a Rule 25 Assessment.


Your support network of family and friends will play a critical role in your recovery. Commitment, self-reflection, and patience are keys to achieving and maintaining sobriety, with small victories along the way to celebrate. Remember that recovery is an ongoing journey, and it’s perfectly acceptable to take it one day at a time as you focus on the present and work towards a brighter future.



Determining if one has an alcohol use disorder can be challenging. It’s a complex condition with a wide spectrum of symptoms, and individuals often underestimate their own drinking patterns. Denial, stigma, and social acceptance of drinking can further complicate self-assessment. Professional evaluation is often necessary to reach an accurate diagnosis.
























Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Kyle Zrenchik, PhD, LMFT

Published : 10/21/2023



Disclaimer: ALL IN Therapy Clinic aims to improve people’s lives. We do this through providing effective mental health counseling by passionate professionals. Inspired by this, we write content for your own education. Also, our content is researched, cited, reviewed, and edited by licensed mental health professionals.  However, the information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.  Additionally, it should not be used in place of the advice of a qualified healthcare provider.






Written and reviewed by

Dr Kyle Zrenchik, PhD, ACS, LMFT

Dr. Kyle Zrenchik is the Co-Founder of ALL IN, the Creator of the Couples Erotic Flow model for treating sexual issues in individuals and couples, Designer of the Deep Dive programs at ALL IN, and is one of the most well-respected couples counselors in the Twin Cities.

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