Drinking alcohol seems as common today as drinking a bottle of water. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), about 70 percent of the adult population in America reported drinking alcohol in the prior year, as reported in the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The levels of consumption vary. Some people drink an occasional cocktail or glass of wine in the company of friends or coworkers, while others drink on a more regular but still moderate level. Others drink to excess or binge drink on a daily or weekly basis.

Consistent drinking and heavy drinking can easily lead to alcoholism, also known as alcohol abuse. But when does social drinking become an alcohol addiction?  How do you know if you have a problem with alcohol? How do you know when to go to rehab for alcohol?

Let’s start by defining different levels of alcohol consumption, which may be divided into different categories:


  • Social drinker: Consumes alcohol on social occasions in moderate quantities, typically somewhere between one and fourteen alcohol drinks per week.

  • Binge drinker: Consumes a great amount of alcohol in a short time frame with the intent to become drunk. Typically, this drinking pattern includes more than four alcohol drinks within two hours if the person is female and more than five drinks in two hours if the person is male.

  • Problem drinker: Consumes alcohol on a frequent, if not daily basis, which creates difficulties with the individual’s mental or physical health, social life, and career. Typically, drinkers in this category can stop drinking when they realize the negative consequences it is producing.

  • Alcoholic: Consumes alcohol every day, which can range from a single drink to binge drinking to many things in between. Alcoholics’ drinking is based on compulsion and/or dependence and they cannot stop, despite the negative impacts it is creating.

For the most part, casual drinking is a pattern of low-risk drinking that involves consuming alcohol in small amounts. There are still risks involved, though. Some drinkers have a low tolerance for alcohol, which increases their probability of becoming drunk if they overindulge. Additionally, for people predisposed to addiction through genetics or environmental factors, even occasional drinking can present a pathway to alcoholism.

Crossing the Line

When does casual drinking cross the line into alcohol abuse? Knowing what alcohol addiction looks and feels like may make it easier to determine if it is time to seek professional help in order to stop the destructive cycle of addiction and work toward recovery. Whenever alcohol consumption affects people’s professional lives, personal relationships, and ability to function, it is a problem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identifies the following attributes of alcohol abuse:

  • Binge drinking occurs when a person consumes enough alcohol in one sitting to bring the blood alcohol concentration to 0.08 percent or more, which is considered to be legally impaired. On average, this results from about five drinks for males within two hours and about four drinks for females in the same amount of time.

  • Heavy drinking is about fifteen drinks per week for men, and about eight drinks per week for women.

  • Alcohol abuse is drinking that can result in physical harm or damage to a person’s relationships or responsibilities. Alcohol abuse does not necessarily mean dependence on alcohol is present.

  • Alcoholism, alcohol addiction, or alcohol dependence is a chronic psychological and physical condition that makes it difficult to stop drinking, even if it causes problems in various aspects of a person’s life.

Important Signs of Alcoholism

Other people may fail to notice the initial signs of alcoholism. Alcoholics and their loved ones might rationalize that the signs of alcoholism are symptoms of other conditions.

As the disease of alcoholism progresses, the symptoms of the condition often become more acute and noticeable. People may experience the physical signs of excessive alcohol use during and after consumption, including:

  • Blackouts

  • Unexplained injuries, accidents, or illnesses

  • Loss of appetite

  • Red or puffy face, redness, and growth of the bottom part of their noses

  • Infections or skin sores

  • Digestive difficulties or pain

  • Loss of libido

  • Unsteadiness

  • Withdrawal symptoms when people stop drinking

  • Cirrhosis of the liver or cancer

The psychological signs of alcohol addiction play an equally important part of identifying a problem. Psychological symptoms include:

  • Hallucinations

  • Insomnia

  • Alcohol cravings

  • Guilt or shame about drinking

  • Hiding drinking from others

  • Inability to stop drinking or stop thinking about drinking

The social fallout of alcoholism is often exacerbated as drinkers fall deeper into addiction. Ultimately, the disease may negatively affect family dynamics, friendships, and professional performance:

  • Data shows that 12 to 70 percent of adults who abuse children are alcoholics. In turn, victims of childhood abuse are three to four times more likely than their peers to develop an alcohol or drug addiction.

  • Spouses and partners of alcoholics are often subjected to alcohol-related abuse. Research shows that marriages in which one spouse is a heavy drinker experience a 50 percent divorce rate.

  • Individuals spend less time engaging in their favorite social and recreational activities due to the physical symptoms of alcoholism as well as a heightened focus on drinking.

  • Alcohol is a depressant that slows down the brain and affects response time. In a work environment, this affects a person’s ability to make decisions, respond quickly in an appropriate manner, focus on required tasks, and contribute to work teams.

Alcoholism Recovery

So what happens when you go to rehab for alcohol? While there is no cure for alcoholism, there is help through treatment programs that help to manage the emotional, physical, social, and behavioral components of a person’s life that alcohol may impact. Alcoholism is a complex disease that impacts brain circuitry, potentially disrupting people’s thoughts, emotions, impulse control, and memory formation.

Alcoholism treatment centers nationwide offer comprehensive programs that provide care in support of recovery. It is important to research and ask the right questions to ensure that you find the right facility for you or a loved one. Addiction treatment can help realign lives through behavioral therapies, individual and group counseling, medical and mental health support, support groups, and other options.

Questions or concerns?  If so, don’t hesitate to contact Sunshine Behavioral Health today.

Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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