Everyone has concepts or behaviors that are called either “normal,” “right,” or “abnormal” and “wrong.” Like everything else, the definitions of these terms are in the eye of the beholder. This is particularly true when we talk about drinking alcohol and alcoholism. Some people believe that any use of alcohol at all is wrong. Some believe that chronically drinking to excess is normal, especially in countries where business deals are made or broken over a few bottles of whiskey. Thus, the terms “social use” and “alcoholism” are also in the eye of the beholder.
What is “social use,” anyway? We can define it this way: the social use of alcohol is when we are having a good time gathering with our friends at our home, their homes, restaurants, bars, clubs, etc. Social use takes place at casinos, holiday parties, on vacations, anywhere people gather to be with others. Now the question shifts: how much alcohol constitutes social use? Two drinks? Ten drinks?
“Alcoholism” is another term for alcohol addiction and alcohol dependence. Medical and mental health professionals use the term “alcohol dependence,” meaning that the drinker is physically and psychologically addicted to alcohol.
If you drink socially with your friends, does that mean that you’re an alcoholic? No, not necessarily. It depends on how much and how often you drink. If, on special or casual social occasions, you have a drink or two, this isn’t the behavior of an alcoholic. However, if you get staggering, blind drunk when you’re in a social situation, and you do this a lot, this is the behavior of an alcoholic because you don’t know when to stop. It’s amazing how many so-called social occasions alcoholics use to justify chronic, heavy drinking and binge drinking.
Let’s take a look at some of the warning signs that may tell you that your social drinking is actually a form of alcoholism:
Do you plan or attend social gatherings nearly every day?
- At social gatherings, how many drinks do you have?
- Do you become intoxicated at social gatherings?
- Are you sober enough to drive home, or are you driving under the influence?
- Do you bring your own alcohol to social gatherings to be sure you have enough?
- Do you have a drink or two before the social gathering to get a head start?
- Have any of your friends commented or expressed concern about your drinking?
- Do you not attend social gatherings where alcohol isn’t available?
- Do you socialize with others who don’t drink alcohol?
If you are honest in your answers to these questions, it is up to you to determine what, if anything, you need to do about your social drinking behavior. Even if you’re only experiencing one of these warning signs, you could be well on your way to excessive social alcohol use and alcoholism. If your answers to these questions are mostly or all “red flags,” it is time to seek evaluation and help with a substance abuse counselor. Think it over: is your social behavior killing you?