What is a Social Alcoholic?

What is a Social Alcoholic?

 

Traditionally, the belief widely held around the concept of alcoholism is: someone is either addicted or they’re not; there’s no in-between. However, more and more counselors and other such professionals are finding that a large number of people who come to them for help are kind of alcoholic, or social alcoholic. These folks seek help for some other problem or issue that has developed in their life: anger issues, aggression, loss of job, declining health – without a thought about their drinking patterns. After some digging, the professional finds that these presenting problems are in fact a result of the person’s use of alcohol.

The Alcoholic

Alcoholism, officially called alcohol dependence, is where the alcoholic must drink pretty much on a continuous basis in order to maintain a level of alcohol in their body. If they stop then all the alcohol gets metabolized and the alcoholic goes into withdrawal. Alcohol withdrawal syndrome causes the alcoholic to experience severe and even life-threatening symptoms.

Alcoholism as a Spectrum

The medical and therapeutic community is finding it to be more accurate and helpful to view alcoholism as a spectrum disorder rather than a black-and-white condition. There are many people who can be diagnosed with some sort of drinking problem but who do not meet the strict criteria required to be diagnosed as alcoholic. This is where the social alcoholic label applies.

The Social Alcoholic

The social alcoholic, also called “almost alcoholic,” applies to a large number of people. People who are social alcoholics are not typical alcoholics; instead, they are people whose drinking habits can range from barely qualifying as almost alcoholics to those whose drinking borders actual alcohol abuse.

The almost alcoholic will have started out in normal drinking patterns but has then moved into the social alcoholic zone of the spectrum. Here are some signs of an almost alcoholic:

 

  • drinks to relieve stress
  • may drink alone
  • looks forward to drinking
  • drinking may be related to health problems
  • drinks to relieve boredom and/or loneliness
  • sometimes takes risks like driving after drinking
  • drinks to get a “buzz”
  • work performance is declining
  • isn’t comfortable in social settings without drinking
  • finds that drinking helps to overcome shyness

 

 Examples of the Social Alcoholic

#1

Someone who is under the normal pressures of life: balancing family, work, relationships, finances and starts experiencing difficulty sleeping and chronic fatigue goes to the doctor for a prescription for a sleeping pill or antidepressant. Upon further examination, the doctor finds out that the patient drinks 3 glasses of wine nightly to unwind. At first, this helped the patient sleep better but is now no longer working. At some point, this patient had crossed over the line that separates normal social drinking from almost alcoholic drinking.

Combined with the somewhat excessive drinking each evening, the patient reports having sleep disturbances, fatigue, depression and outbursts of anger. These are historically the same problems that true alcoholics often report. However, the patient does not have enough of the symptoms to meet the accepted criteria for any of the alcohol-related diagnoses, such as alcoholism. It wasn’t that one drink was never enough, or that the patient had to drink enough to maintain a certain level of alcohol to avoid withdrawals, but the patient is nonetheless experiencing alcohol related problems.

#2

The “typical” college student who binge drinks with friends on the weekends can also possibly be a social alcoholic. This drinking pattern of binge drinking may seem normal to the student because a lot of other students are doing it too: at weekend parties, drinking games, tailgating, and so on. But when the drinking starts affecting school performance, mood, and leads to repercussions such as academic or social probation if say, one night things get out of hand and the student gets in a physical fight with someone else. The student may be told to go to anger management classes. Again, the problem on the surface is aggression but the underlying problem is a pattern of drinking that has come to be known as social alcoholism.

 

 

 

 

Sources:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/

http://www.helpguide.org/

http://www.theatlantic.com/

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