What’s the Difference Between Social Drinkers, Problem Drinkers and Alcoholics?
You’ve probably heard phrases like “high-functioning addict” and “problem drinkers” before, and wondered if your drinking habits would classify you in one of these categories. The confusion lies in the fact that people often use these terms interchangeably without defining what they mean. There’s also a lack of public awareness around the warning signs that characterize alcoholics and alcoholism.
Social Drinkers vs. Problem Drinkers
Social drinkers are people who engage in low-risk, or moderate, drinking patterns. In contrast, problem drinkers have a more dangerous habit of heavy drinking, often confined to a brief period of two to four years.
When problem drinkers have a reason to scale back their drinking habits – for example, if they get a DUI or become a new parent – they can walk away from drinking altogether or return to being a social drinker.
What Defines Alcoholics?
An alcoholic is someone who finds themselves unable to cut back on their drinking, despite the negative consequences it has on their lives. Alcoholics may have periods where they drink in moderation, but they inevitably return to their high-risk patterns of use.
High-functioning alcoholics who don’t believe they match the profile of the “typical” addict may dismiss their problematic behavior by claiming they can stop drinking whenever they like. However, the truth is that alcoholics come from all walks of life, and anyone can develop an addictive relationship with alcohol.
Red Flags of Alcoholism
If you are wondering whether you or someone in your life might be an alcoholic, here are some warning signs to look for. Though this list is not all-inclusive, it does represent many of the common traits alcoholics share.
- Losing control after starting to drink
- Being preoccupied about their alcohol use – where they’re going to buy alcohol, when they’re going to have their next drink, who they’re going to get drunk with
- Denying that their drinking is a problem because they are successful in other aspects of their life
- Promising to set limits on when or how much they will drink, then being unable to stick to them
- Continuing to drink, despite negative consequences such as financial difficulties
- Doing things when drunk that they would never do when sober
- Drinking so much that they have “blackout” episodes when they can’t remember what they said or did
- “Rewarding” themselves with alcohol
- Using alcohol as a crutch or coping mechanism
- Feeling guilty about their drinking when they are sober
- Doing dangerous or irresponsible things when drunk, such as driving
- Others have expressed concerns about their behavior
- Finding it impossible to imagine what their life would be like without alcohol
How to Get Help
If these warning signs sound familiar to you, getting help can turn your life around. The first step is to be honest with yourself. Admit your drinking has become a problem in your life, and that you can’t solve it by yourself. Make an appointment with a therapist or medical doctor who specializes in addiction. They will likely ask you questions to assess the extent of your relationship with alcohol and your behavioral patterns, and use your answers as a framework for diagnosing your problems and suggesting appropriate treatment.
Addiction is a chronic illness that can afflict anyone. Like people with other chronic diseases such as diabetes, it’s possible for alcoholics to learn to manage their symptoms and move through the rest of their life free of the burden of addiction.
One common tendency of alcoholism is isolation. However, it is essential for alcoholics to understand that they are not alone, and that there are many options available to help them make a full recovery. An evidence-based continuum of care that begins with medical detoxification and continues with inpatient rehab will give you the best chances of succeeding in long-term sobriety. To learn more about the addiction treatment options we offer at Beach House, reach out to us today.