When Does Social Drinking Become Problem Drinking?

We live in a drinking culture. Nearly 70 percent of Americans drink alcohol at least occasionally and nearly 50 report recent binge drinking, which means four drinks in a sitting for women and five for men. We drink on holidays, we drink at weddings, we drink at funerals, we drink at parties, we drink with dinner, we drink at sporting events, and we drink just to relax. Since drinking is so socially acceptable, and even expected, it can sometimes be hard to tell when casual drinking becomes a problem. Here are some indications that your social drinking has gotten out of control.

Your social drinking is becoming less social.

Social drinking is a bit of a vague notion and it can vary greatly. For example, someone in a fraternity will have a very different idea of what constitutes social drinking than someone with a full-time job and a mortgage. However, the central element is that social drinking is social. You get together with friends, have a couple of drinks–ideally not much more than that–and find a safe way to get home. As drinking becomes more of a problem, you’re more likely to drop the social element of it. You may even prefer to stay home and drink by yourself rather than see your friends. Canceling plans and prioritizing drinking over spending time with friends and family is a major red flag that drinking has become a problem.

Your tolerance increases.

Maybe two beers used to give you a buzz, but now you can have three or four drinks and hardly notice. This means your body has adapted to the presence of alcohol in your system and now you need more to get the same effect. This typically only happens when you drink too frequently and too much. The flip side of developing a tolerance is that you also develop a dependence. You may actually need to drink to feel normal. You may experience mild withdrawal symptoms such as headache, tremors, sweating, nausea, or irritability when you’re not drinking. If you’ve been drinking a lot, these symptoms may be more severe, and even dangerous.

You need to drink to relax.

Alcohol makes you feel calm by enhancing the activity of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA and decreasing the activity of the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate. However, your brain eventually adapts to this and when it does, you may feel unable to relax without alcohol. Needing alcohol to relax may also be a sign of other problems such as stress or anxiety that might also contribute to problem drinking.

You suffer negative consequences.

Another major warning sign is when you start suffering negative consequences because of your drinking. These might include accidents, fights, DUIs, blackouts, or consequences of risky sex. You don’t even have to be physically dependent or addicted to suffer negative consequences from drinking. All these can happen as a result of occasional binge drinking. An even bigger warning sign is if you suffer these negative consequences and keep drinking anyway. Any of these should be enough to make you decide to drink less, take a break, or stop drinking completely. If you keep drinking in spite of it causing obvious problems, then alcohol may have more control over you than you realize.

You become evasive or defensive about drinking.

When you drink with friends, there’s a tacit assumption that you’re all drinking a reasonable amount. Whether or not it’s actually reasonable is a different issue. If you start hiding your drinking from your friends, it probably means that on some level you know they wouldn’t approve. There are many ways to be evasive about drinking. Maybe you have a couple of drinks to prime before you meet up with others. This way they won’t see you drinking a lot more than them. Maybe you drink a lot on your own and are careful not to mention it. A more extreme version would be to actually lie about how much you drink or deny you have a problem if someone else mentions it. Defensiveness is a major red flag, as are denial and rationalization. If a friend asks if you think you might be drinking too much, take the question seriously.

You start thinking about drinking while doing other things.

A common characteristic of addiction is that you start thinking about the substance when you’re not using it. You become preoccupied with it. It becomes something you look forward to. You might start leaving work a little early, or you might cancel plans with friends, as mentioned above. Although it’s common to look forward to parties or dinner with friends, it’s typically the fun time and social interaction that people look forward to, not specifically the alcohol. If the desire to drink intrudes on your normal life, it is likely an indication that you are addicted.

You can’t stop.

Perhaps the defining characteristic of addiction is that you can’t stop, even if you want to. There are several reasons for this. For one, you may try, but the discomfort of withdrawal makes it too hard, so you just keep drinking so you can function more or less normally. You may also find that alcohol has become an emotional crutch that helps you cope with stress, anxiety, and other troubling emotions. Finally, you may just feel like you don’t really want to quit after all. When you become addicted, your brain can come up with a dozen valid-sounding reasons to keep doing what you’ve been doing. The bottom line is that if you decide to quit, but then don’t, your drinking has likely gotten out of control.

Daylight Recovery Services takes a holistic approach to substance abuse and co-occurring disorder treatment to address the physical, psychological, and spiritual facets of addiction and recovery. We ensure clients emerge from our facility with the proper tools and confidence in their ability to lead a healthy, enjoyable life. If you or someone you love is ready to break free of the bondage of addiction, contact one of our recovery experts today at 1-833-2DAYLIGHT.