Social Drinking vs Binge Drinking

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis completed medical school at The University of Mississippi Medical Center and residency in general psychiatry in 2003. He completed a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 2005. Following this, he served as Chief Medical Officer for 10 years of Brentwood Behavioral Healthcare a private health system including a 105-bed hospital, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient services.

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What Is the Difference Between Social and Binge Drinking?

Have you ever noticed that just about every movie or television show you watch shows someone drinking alcohol at some point? Social drinking is so ingrained in society that you might wonder if it’s normal for someone to drink at every party or evening dinner. In fact, people seem to push others to have a drink, and it’s hard to know what to do when someone puts a glass of champagne in your hand and declares a toast.

According to the CDC, moderate drinking is defined as being no more than two drinks a day for men and one for women. While this might be the safest way to avoid having alcohol have a negative impact on your health, it’s also safe to say that many people consume more than this recommended amount. So, how do you know when your social drinking has crossed over into binge drinking? The answer to this question can get complicated, but exploring a few key differences between the two can help you know if you need to reach out for professional help.

Know the Common Characteristics of a Social Drinker

For most people, there’s nothing wrong with having one or two drinks over the course of a dinner or celebratory event. Yet, it’s also difficult to say when a person has moved beyond social drinking since there are a significant number of differences between how your body processes alcohol along with how you feel emotionally about drinking. In most instances, it’s fairly safe to define social drinking as when you’re able to stay within the recommended daily limits for adults.

There are a few other signs of social drinking that you can use to check on your relationship with alcohol. For example, people who drink socially wouldn’t think much about drinking unless they’re at a social event or having a single drink during dinner. Social drinkers would also not necessarily need to have an alcoholic beverage to feel like they’re having a good time. They also manage to stay in control over their behavior and remember what they did and said the next day.

Pay Attention to These Signs of Binge Drinking

Binge drinking clearly involves going over the daily recommended amount. However, how do you know if one or two extra drinks have led to this happening? A drinking binge occurs when your alcohol consumption leads to your blood alcohol content (BAC) going over 0.08%. At this point, you would be feeling a sense of impairment. You’re also in no condition to drive. Your speech might be slurred, and you could be dealing with a lack of coordination.

There isn’t an exact set amount of drinks that you can count to know when you reach this level since your body weight and sex can affect how quickly your BAC rises. Generally, it takes around five or more standard drinks for men and four standard drinks for women in two hours to hit this point.

Keep in mind that many alcoholic beverages have more than what is considered the standard amount of alcohol in a drink. For instance, 12 ounces of a regular beer with 5% alcohol content is considered a standard drink. However, many craft beers have a higher alcohol content compared to the average can. The same can be said for mixed drinks. If you’re worried about binge drinking, then you’ll want to make sure to know exactly how much alcohol is in each beverage you drink.

You’ll also want to watch for these signs that you’re binge drinking either intentionally or without knowing it since this could signal a need to explore your relationship with alcohol.

• Receiving a DUI or having a car accident
• Binge drinking on multiple occasions
• Having frequent absences from work or school after drinking
• Waking up unsure of what happened the night before

Can Binge Drinking Harm Your Health?

People who engage in binge drinking may think that they’re safe from negative effects on their health because they can sometimes go for days without having alcohol. However, drinking too much alcohol in a short period of time places stress on your liver as it struggles to process it all.

Over time, binge drinking can lead to some of the same health problems that a daily drinker may experience. Liver damage is one possibility that can occur after drinking heavily on multiple occasions. People who binge drink are also at risk of drinking more than their bodies can handle. If you drink alone, then there might not be someone around to notice if you begin to have the symptoms of an overdose. Addressing your binge drinking can preserve your life and help you to avoid the negative effects of flooding your body with alcohol.

Ask Yourself If You May Have an Alcohol Use Disorder

Whenever this question comes up, there’s often the possibility that someone is struggling with an alcohol use disorder. Binge drinkers could easily fall into this category since having multiple binges during the week is a sign that their drinking is out of control. During an alcohol use disorder assessment, you might be asked how much and how often you drink. While this is a good indicator of whether or not you’re dealing with a substance use disorder, you can also look at other signs that you could benefit from professional treatment.

For example, if you have an alcohol use disorder, you might try to stop drinking and find it hard to stick to your resolution. If you’ve made multiple efforts to stop binge drinking, then you might be unable to do it alone. While this might be frustrating, there are people who can help. Treatment for an alcohol use disorder is an effective way to figure out why you binge drink. Treatment can also teach you how to manage your cravings.

Can You Have a Substance Use Disorder and Still Be Functional?

Some people are able to cover up their challenges with drinking alcohol. If you’re able to stay functional despite binge drinking regularly, then you may be unsure if you still need treatment. The idea that people with an alcohol use disorder have to hit rock bottom before they get help is a myth.

Functional people might use their success as an excuse to avoid getting help. However, being able to keep a job or continue caring for your family doesn’t mean that you’re safe from the negative effects of alcohol on your health and relationships. Eventually, drinking alcohol in excess will catch up with you or someone that you love.

If you’re worried about loved ones, then you may find it harder to convince them to get help if they are functioning. They may try to claim that they’re drinking to network for their career, or they may be in a social or work situation where heavy alcohol consumption is encouraged. If this is the case, then it may help to talk to your loved one or friend about how their heavy drinking affects you and the other people in their lives. Bringing binge drinking out in the open requires being compassionate and tactful, but it might be what they need to decide to seek help.

Can Someone in Recovery Drink Socially?

There’s also the question of whether or not those who binge drink can learn how to control their drinking. After all, the prospect of attending social events while sober might seem scary at first. Some people may even worry about what they’ll say to explain why they turn down a drink if they aren’t ready to talk about their alcohol use disorder with the world.

The best recommendation for anyone who is struggling with a substance use disorder is to avoid drinking completely. This is because having one drink can trigger your brain to crave more. When this happens, the cravings may become too strong for you to overcome with your coping methods. Even one drink can lead to a relapse for someone who has an alcohol use disorder.

While not drinking again for a long period of time might seem impossible at first, you can learn to enjoy life without alcohol. You can also figure out ways to handle social situations where there is drinking involved during your time working with a professional substance use treatment counselor.

For some people, this might mean avoiding certain settings until they get stronger in sobriety. You might need to temporarily avoid going to bars or parties where you know people are going to expect you to drink large amounts of alcohol. Over time, you might feel safe going to special events. Having a few tricks up your sleeve, too, can make them easier to manage.

People in recovery often develop a signature cocktail that is alcohol-free but can pass as an alcoholic beverage so that it looks like they have a drink in their hand. Or, you might take a sober friend with you who can help you deal with temptation if it arises. There’s also the option of opening up about your struggles with drinking to your close friends and family. Most people are understanding, and you never know who else in your social circle might benefit from hearing about your experience.

What Should You Do If You Think You Drink Too Much?

So, what do you do if you recognize concerning drinking habits after learning about the difference between social and binge drinking? Reaching out to a treatment center is the best way to start changing your lifestyle. The reason why you might not be able to stop drinking on your own is that many people have underlying reasons for why they binge drink. Social anxiety, depression, and PTSD are just a few common mental health conditions that are associated with alcohol use disorders.

Going to a treatment program puts you in touch with professionals who can help you identify any underlying mental health conditions that contribute to your drinking patterns. Often, getting help with managing those conditions helps you to feel mentally and emotionally stronger for turning down a drink. You can also get help with handling your withdrawal symptoms so that you don’t give in to your cravings during the first few days after quitting alcohol.

While alcohol recovery does take work, you’ll find that it’s easier when you’re surrounded by support. Treatment programs also help you learn how to fill your time with positive activities and relationships that foster better overall well-being. During your time in a recovery center, you can learn how to relax through exercising, socializing with the other people in your group, and engaging in hobbies such as fishing and gardening. In time, you’ll embrace your new lifestyle and the freedom that comes from no longer being weighed down by heavy drinking.

Although social drinking might be encouraged in our society, it’s okay to say that you’ve had enough. If you or someone that you love find it hard to stop drinking, then our caring staff at Defining Wellness Centers can help you determine if your social drinking has crossed the line into an alcohol use disorder. Give us a call today to get started on changing your relationship

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