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Casual Drinking, Problem Drinking & Alcoholism

Written By
Chris Elkins, M.A.
This page features
3 Cited Research Articles

Casual or social drinking refers to consuming alcohol infrequently. It usually involves drinking responsibly. Problem drinking is associated with drinking too much, too often or in unhealthy situations. But problem drinking doesn’t make someone an alcoholic. Alcoholism is a disease characterized by compulsive drinking despite negative consequences.

Doctors need more than a rubric to diagnose alcoholism. A lot of people who drink end up getting drunk more often than they intended. Many people regret what they do or say when they drink. But that doesn’t mean they have the disease called alcoholism.

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol addiction, is a disease that makes it very difficult for a person to stay sober. One of the biggest warning signs for alcoholism is trying to stop drinking without success. But that symptom is also subjective.

If you make a pledge to stay sober for a week but you have a drink or two at happy hour with friends, that doesn’t mean you’re an alcoholic. You may be a casual drinker who sometimes gives in to peer pressure. If you’re capable of drinking responsibly, you probably aren’t an alcoholic.

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What Does It Mean to Drink Responsibly?

Moderate drinking means consuming one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. But drinking responsibly is a vague recommendation.

Responsible drinking can include drinking slowly so you don’t get drunk. It can also mean only letting yourself get inebriated when you know you’re in a safe environment surrounded by friends.

Ways to drink responsibly can include:

Drinking responsibly is relative to your situation. If you’re underage or in recovery from addiction, it’s impossible to drink responsibly. These people shouldn’t consume alcohol in any situation.

Casual Drinking

Casual drinking is a pattern of low-risk drinking that involves consuming alcohol in low doses on rare occasions. People who drink casually, also referred to as social drinkers, typically consume alcohol no more than once per week or a few times each month.

You may identify as a casual or social drinker if you relate to the following statements:

People who drink casually usually don’t get blackout drunk. However, they may have a low tolerance to alcohol and a high risk of getting drunk if they overindulge.

Problem Drinking

You don’t have to be an alcoholic to have problems with alcohol. Problem drinkers don’t necessarily need to go to a residential rehab center to stop drinking. But they may struggle to recognize how much alcohol is too much.

You may have a problem with alcohol or a mild alcohol use disorder if you relate to the following statements:

People who have problems with alcohol may be capable of stopping on their own if they want to, but they may not recognize the problems that alcohol is causing. Or they may not want to stop drinking.

Some of these people may require some form of therapy or support to learn how to control their drinking.

Alcoholism

The biggest differences between an alcoholic and a problem drinker are the severity of alcohol-related problems and the person’s ability to control his or her drinking. High-functioning alcoholics may appear to function normally, but they’re usually experiencing internal problems because of their drinking.

Most alcoholics experience problems at work or school. They often have legal problems or deteriorating personal relationships. And they usually require addiction treatment or support from peer groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, to get sober.

You may be an alcoholic if you identify with any of the following statements:

Alcoholics usually drink every day or almost every day. When they drink, they almost always drink too much. They experience withdrawal symptoms, such as headache, fatigue and anxiety, when they quit drinking. Alcoholics also feel physical cravings for alcohol.

If you think you’re an alcoholic, consider discussing your alcohol use with your health provider. If you’re unable to quit drinking, you should look into attending a rehab for alcohol addiction.

If you’re unsure about whether you’re a casual drinker or a problem drinker, consider cutting back on your alcohol intake or committing to sobriety. Despite its prevalence, alcohol is a high-risk substance. You don’t need it to socialize and have fun.

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