Blog - Beach House Rehab Center
December 22, 2018

Social Drinker vs. Alcoholic

For millennia, alcohol has played a vital role in society in both social, religious and ceremonial life. These days, it is considered an adult beverage that comes with a tagline of “drink responsibly.” The problem lies in the fact that some people can drink responsibly, while others all-too-often fail to do so.

We are constantly inundated with message pushing for social drinking. Football games are blasted with beer and liquor advertisements, and college campuses have become testing grounds for America’s youth to learn how to binge drink.

Because of the prevalence of alcohol and this underlying binge drinking culture, the line separating an alcoholic and a social drinker has become blurred. Even though we know more than ever about the dangers of drinking, widespread tolerance for toeing that line has led to increased rates of alcoholism throughout American life. Now, the question we are left with is what is an acceptable amount of alcohol to drink on a regular basis? What is the difference between a social drinker and an alcoholic?

A General Note

Before we begin, we must clarify that there are no clear-cut rules or definitions when it comes to making these distinctions; rather we have a general guideline of sorts with common indicators that can help delineate a social drinker from someone addicted to alcohol.

As with most things, the cause behind alcoholism can be viewed as a combination of nature and nurture. There are a dozen factors that might affect your drinking habits such as:

  • Age
  • Eating patterns
  • Family history of substance abuse
  • Presence of mental health disorders
  • Sex
  • Size
  • Weight

That said, there are warning signs to keep an eye out for that can act as red flags.

A Standard Drink

To begin separating a social drinker from an alcoholic, it helps to define a ‘standard’ drink. The agreed-upon definition is that one drink equals 14 grams of pure alcohol, which is equal to:

  • A 12-ounce beer that is about 5% alcohol
  • An 8-ounce beer that is about 7% alcohol
  • A 5-ounce glass of wine that is about 12% alcohol
  • 1.5 ounces of liquor that is 40% alcohol, or 80 proof

Keep in mind that a bartender will typically pour at least 1.5 ounces of liquor in a mixed drink or a shot, and that beer is regularly served in a 16-ounce pint glass.

Social Drinker

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), there is a formula for how much alcohol consumption is considered “low-risk.”

  • For a male, the limit is 4 drinks per day and no more than 14 drinks per week.
  • For a female, the maximum is 3 drinks per day but no more than 7 drinks in a week.

People that consume alcohol within these parameters are defined as “Social Drinkers.” Common signs of a social drinker are:

  • They do not spend more on alcohol than they can afford
  • Rarely if ever drink to the point of heavy intoxication
  • Do not do things they will regret when drinking
  • Do not think about alcohol when they’re sober
  • Drink occasionally and usually only in social settings

As another aside, simply because someone is classified as a social drinker does not mean they are immune to potential long-term damage from alcohol consumption. Driving while under the influence is extremely dangerous, irresponsible, and against the law. Drinking while taking certain medications can have ill effects, and social drinking can often lead to problem drinking, especially if there is a family history of alcoholism.


A common saying goes, “A heavy drinker knows when the liquor store closes, an alcoholic knows when it opens.” Unfortunately, there is a serious element of truth to this statement. Alcoholism is the medical term that has been used for centuries to label a disorder in which a person has a serious addiction to alcohol. It is referred to as, “a chronic and progressive disease.”

Alcoholics develop both a mental and physical dependence upon alcohol to function in their everyday life and avoid feeling symptoms of withdrawal. Signs of alcoholism include:

  • Binge drinking
  • Difficulty managing alcohol intake or stopping
  • Drinking daily
  • Drinking to escape stress or negative feelings
  • Drinking while at work
  • Engaging in risky sexual behavior
  • Family or friends express concern
  • Feeling shame or guilt over drinking
  • Getting in trouble with the law
  • Having blackouts regularly
  • Irritable when not drinking
  • Lying about drinking or trying to hide addiction
  • Needing more alcohol to get a buzz
  • Occasionally or regularly driving under the influence
  • Physical dependence

If you see these symptoms or behaviors manifest in yourself or someone you care for it is essential that the struggling party get help immediately. The road towards sobriety can be a tough one, but the consequences of letting the roots of this disease take hold and grow become more severe over time.

The lines between a social drinker and an alcoholic may feel grey at times. However, if your drinking is affecting your physical or mental health, guiding you towards poor decisions, and ruining your work life or relationships, it is vital that you speak to a mental health specialist at once, so they can chart the course towards recovery.

If you have any questions on detox and sobriety, the helpful experts at Beach House would be more than happy to aid you with any need you might have.