What is a Social Drinker?

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A social drinker is an individual who adheres to moderate drinking guidelines and does not experience any adverse outcomes as a result of their alcohol intake.

What is Social Drinking?

The social drinker meaning varies according to cultural norms and expectations. 

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In the United States, social drinking involves just one or two standard drinks, typically to celebrate a special occasion. 

To drink socially is to consume alcohol within safe recommended limits – you can check guidelines from NIAAA (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) right here. Additionally, a social drinker will not experience the negative consequences of alcohol use in the short-term. Any long-term use of alcohol is inadvisable. 

The other important qualifier for a social drinker is that the person does not drink alcohol to the point of intoxication.

Some common characteristics of social drinkers are as follows: 

  • Spend little time thinking about alcohol.
  • Do not typically monitor their alcohol intake.
  • Drink alcohol only on special occasions or with close family members.
  • Do not feel compelled to drink alcohol to have a good time.
  • Do not regret words or actions related to alcohol and intoxication.
  • Seldom or never get into alcohol-related personal, professional, or legal trouble.
  • Celebrate and socialize in ways that are not centered on alcohol.

In some cultures where heavy drinking is normalized or even celebrated, the definition of social drinking often encompasses using alcohol to self-medicate feelings of stress or depression. 

While you are unlikely to come to immediate harm if you are a social drinker, the less alcohol you consume, the better. Beyond this, social drinking can lead to other patterns of alcohol consumption that are much more damaging. 

An image of friends gathered for a dinner party, symbolizing social drinking

Other Types of Potentially Dangerous Drinking Patterns

f social drinking develops into any of the following patterns of alcohol consumption, it can trigger potentially damaging consequences: 

  • Problem drinking: Problem drinking is an umbrella term that describes any abusive or unhealthy patterns of alcohol consumption leading to adverse outcomes.
  • Heavy drinking: According to guidelines from NIAAA (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism), if a man consumes more than fourteen standard drinks or a woman consumes more than eight standard drinks in any given week, this is considered heavy drinking.
  • Binge drinking: Binge drinking is defined by CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) as a man consuming five or more standard drinks in two hours or a woman consuming four or more alcoholic drinks in the same period. Episodes of binge drinking increase your risk of alcohol poisoning, a potentially life-threatening form of alcohol overdose.
  • Alcoholism: The clinical descriptor for alcohol use disorders alcoholism is a chronic, relapsing condition of the brain. Central to alcohol use disorder is compulsive alcohol consumption despite negative consequences.

How Social Drinking Can Develop into Problematic Drinking

Social drinking can become problematic if a person drinks more alcohol than is considered socially acceptable – becoming intoxicated, for instance. 

The following signs are indicators that a drinking problem is developing, potentially leading to alcohol use disorder:

  • Consuming more alcohol than friends and family.
  • Arriving at social gatherings intoxicated.
  • Behaving aggressively or anti-socially when intoxicated.
  • Drinking alone to conceal the development of abusive drinking patterns.
  • Hiding alcoholic beverages and empties from loved ones.
  • Finding it difficult to stop drinking alcohol.
  • Socializing with heavy drinkers or binge drinkers.
  • Prioritizing alcohol above personal or professional commitments.
  • Experiencing problems at work due to alcohol consumption.
  • Loved ones start commenting on drinking habits.
  • Developing signs of tolerance and physical dependence.
  • Experiencing problems in personal life due to alcohol consumption.
  • Withdrawal symptoms manifesting in the absence of alcohol.

Many of the above signs are also symptoms of alcohol use disorder. By this stage, you have strayed beyond social drinking. While there is no cure for alcohol use disorder, it typically responds favorably to a combination of MAT (medication-assisted treatment) and behavioral interventions like psychotherapy and counseling.

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When Should You Get Help for a Drinking Problem?

If your alcohol consumption is starting to cause problems in your personal and professional life, it could be time to reach out for help. 

Alcohol use disorder (the clinical term for alcoholism) is a chronic and progressive brain disease. The sooner you take action and engage with treatment, the easier it will be to tackle the problem.

At California Detox, we can help make the withdrawal process as smooth and safe as possible. From there, you can go through our treatment programming, including inpatient and outpatient alcohol rehab near you so you can build the firmest foundation for ongoing sobriety. 

For more details and immediate help, call our team.


A drunk is an informal name for an alcoholic, someone diagnosed with alcohol use disorder. Where a social drinker will drink on special occasions without getting intoxicated, a drunk compulsively consumes alcohol, even though it is negatively impacting their life. Social drinkers never feel compelled to drink and do not experience negative consequences related to alcohol.
The most common definition of social drinking is someone who drinks no more than one or two standard alcoholic drinks on occasion.


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