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Have you ever wondered whether your or a close friend or relative may have a drinking problem? There is no definitive answer to this question, but fortunately there are ways to accurately diagnose qualities of alcoholics, social drinkers, and binge drinkers. It’s important to keep these qualities and signs in mind if you suspect yourself or a loved one of possibly having a drinking problem.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, moderate drinking for the average person is defined as 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men. This establishes a baseline for what is considered healthy according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, but it doesn’t help us to define the guidelines for what constitutes alcoholism.


What Are Social Drinkers

A woman looking up what social drinkers are on her computer

According to the NIAAA, those individuals who drink in low risk patterns are defined as social drinkers. This demographic is classified by the consumption pattern of consuming no more than 7 drinks per week, and no more than 3 drinks per sitting. For male, this is defined by no more than 14 drinks per week, or no more than 4 drink per day. What constitutes a drink? A helpful marker for designating drinks is that one drink is equal to: 12 ounces of beer (roughly 5% alcohol content) 8 ounces of malt liquor (roughly 7% alcohol content) 5 ounces of wine (roughly 12% alcohol content) or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof (roughly 40% alcohol content) aka whiskey, vodka, rum, or gin.


Social drinking is difficult to define because different cultures and environments may tolerate disparate levels of inebriation. However, for the sake of clarity, social drinking should be defined as drinking within a reasonable limit that stays within the safe limits of alcohol use. However, if you ascribe to the guidelines outlined by the NIAAA, many people would be considered alcoholics, and that the limits of 1-2 drinks per day is not a realistic expectation. Some characteristics that accurately describe social drinkers are that they:

  • Don’t feel the need to continually monitor the amount of drinks they intake.
  • Don’t spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking about alcohol.
  • Don’t feel the need to drink alcohol in order to have a good time.
  • They never or rarely get into trouble for reasons related to alcohol consumed
  • Only drink alcohol on occasion.
  • Don’t regret things that they say or do while under the influence of alcohol.

The difficulty in diagnosing social drinking is that many persons who may qualify to be considered alcoholics are likely in denial about the severity of their addiction. The transition from social into binge drinking can occur over a long period of time, and the individual is often unaware or unwilling to acknowledge this change. It is only when they are forced to make a change that the problem truly becomes apparent.


What Are Binge Drinkers

Two women looking up what a binge drinker is

Binge Drinkers are considered as the transitional phase between social drinkers and legitimate alcoholics. Binge drinkers can be considered as anyone who surpasses the consumption limits for healthy drinking outlined by the NIAAA. However, they may also qualify according to other signs, such as:

  • Lapses in work or home responsibilities
  • DUI or other legal trouble
  • Continued or involuntary alcohol use despite negative consequences
  • Alcohol usage leading into dangerous or negative situations

Binge drinkers may be able to function in work and life to a variable degree, but it is likely that they cannot sustain their continued alcohol usage. If their patterns of usage continue, they run the chance of their body adapting to the high levels of alcohol within their bloodstream. If this occurs, then they are more likely to continue abusing alcohol, due to the negative side effects that occur when alcohol is no longer present in their body. This is what constitutes a chemical addiction.

Individuals who binge drink run a considerable amount of risks that are similar to those faced by full blown alcoholics. Alcohol is a toxic substance that absolutely causes damage to the body, even in small doses. Binge drinking puts people at risk for developing high blood pressure, certain cancers, and increased exposure to dangerous situations.


What Are Alcoholics

A woman sitting and looking up what an alcoholic is on her computer

According to SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, heavy alcohol use is defined as binge drinking on 5 or more days in the past month. Binge drinking, as defined above, involves a pattern that exceeds the limits outlined by healthy drinking defined by the NIAAA. Another way to define alcoholism is anyone who exceeds binge drinking that brings Blood Alcohol Content (Or BAC) to levels above 0.08 per session, more than 5 times per week.


According to the NIAAA, roughly 72% of people have a single period of heavy drinking (usually between the ages of 18-24) that they eventually grow out of. For most, growing out of this stage is normal, but for alcoholics, these patterns of usage only continue or worsen. What’s known as HFA’s (Or High Functioning Alcoholics) are those individuals who are able to partially separate their addiction from their daily responsibilities. Typically, these people tend to minimize their alcoholism by labeling it simply as a hobby, occasional indulgence, or heavy bout of drinking. The truth however, is that an alcoholic is defined by that person’s relationship to alcohol, not how their relationship to alcohol appears to the rest of the world. Here are some telltale signs of alcoholism to look out for if you suspect yourself or a loved one of being an alcoholic:

  • Using alcohol as a reward for accomplishments or relief.
  • They drink daily.
  • Living a double life that separates binge drinking from their daily work or home life.
  • Binging more than a few times per week (more than 5 drinks in one sitting).
  • Having difficulty imagining their life without alcohol.
  • Having chronic blackouts and not being able to remember what they did for a period of time.
  • Alternating between feelings of guilt and shame towards their drunken behavior.
  • Behaving in ways that are uncharacteristic of their sober when drinking.
  • Surrounding themselves with other social drinkers or binge drinkers.
  • Attempting to take breaks from alcoholism and then engaging in increased alcohol consumption.
  • Continually getting drunk before arriving at parties/bars (pre-gaming).
  • Having an increasing sense of denial about their binging because they are able to hold down a job or keep a relationship for the time being.
  • Setting limits for themselves and often being unable to hold themselves accountable to them.
  • Driving while intoxicated and not getting arrested or involved in an accident.
  • Having the inability to control alcohol consumption after their first few drinks.
  • Family members or friends have expressed concern about their drinking patterns and negative behavior.
  • Engaged in risky sexual behavior while under the influence.
  • Constantly thinking about the next time they can drink, how recently they’ve drunk, how much they have drunk.
  • Always having to finish an alcoholic beverage whether it’s their own or another persons.


Next Steps

Alcohol rehab centers near you can secure an appropriate alcohol detoxification and rehabilitation treatment program for you or a loved one, quickly and discreetly, and close to home if that’s what you’d prefer. If you’re worried about a loved one or your own relationship with alcohol, reach out to someone who can help. At Landmark Recovery, we work to free addicts from the inner prison of substance dependence and abuse.

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