How Two Experts Define ‘Social Drinking’ and ‘Problem Drinking’

You’d be hard pressed to find a person who seriously and honestly classifies themselves as having a drinking problem. Drinking socially is not only widely accepted, but it’s also a definition that allows problem drinkers to overlook but according to organizations like Mental Health America, alcohol abuse and substance abuse are often reactions to depression or other mental health problems.

So how can a person differentiate between true social drinking and problem drinking? While the definition of either can vary from person to person, here are insights from two experts:

Stephen Strobbe, Clinical Associate Professor and Addiction Specialist, Michigan Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry:

“It’s based, at least in part, on what’s accepted within a certain group or culture,” he said. “Even for a given individual, what’s acceptable in one setting may not be OK in another.”

“Social drinking implies moderation as a means of enhancing — not disrupting — other activities. In American culture, it’s safe to say that if extreme intoxication is the goal or outcome, then we’ve crossed that line.”

“Physical symptoms of withdrawal, like shaking or sweating when it gets to be too long between drinks.”

“Monitor the number of standard drinks you take in over time, set limits, practice refusal skills ― and engage in other, healthy behaviors, such as exercise, yoga or meditation. If you are having trouble initiating and maintaining reduced drinking goals, or people close to you are expressing concern or complaints about your drinking, then these are signs that additional help may be needed. Have a talk with your primary care provider, who should be asking you about your drinking periodically and can help point you in the direction of a number of effective, evidence-based treatments, including talk therapy or medications to reduce cravings or urges to drink.”

“Don’t let embarrassment, guilt or stigma keep you from getting the help that you deserve. Alcohol-use disorders are treatable medical conditions.” Making changes early may help you stay ahead of life-altering issues prompted by alcohol abuse.”

Brad Lander: Addiction Medicine Specialist, Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center

“What may be normal on New Year’s Eve may not be normal on a business luncheon. What may be normal for a fraternity kegger may not be normal for romantic dinner.”

“Social drinking does not interfere with your life. That is, it doesn’t cause problems with work or home responsibilities, family, health, social relationships or create legal or financial problems.”

“Binge drinking is also unhealthy, defined as reaching a blood alcohol level of 0.08. This level can be reached for most people by four or five drinks in a two-hour span.”

“If you are confronted by someone about your drinking, statistics say this is a very strong sign [you’re dealing with a problem drinking].”

“A lot of drinking is ‘thoughtless,’ so simply asking yourself, ‘Do I really want another drink?’ can help. At social gatherings, drink some nonalcoholic as well as alcoholic beverages; don’t forget to eat, drink plenty of water, and stand up to peer pressure to drink.”

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