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When Does Casual Drinking Cross the Line into a Drinking Problem?

casual drinking or a drinking problem

Alcohol use is common in United States culture. Most adults drink alcohol at some point in their lives, and many enjoy alcoholic beverages from time to time. While many people drink in moderation, some develop problematic drinking or alcoholism.

Excessive alcohol consumption has been linked to various mental and physical health problems. Prolonged periods of regular, heavy drinking can lead to severe short and long-term health complications and can lead to alcoholism.

Because drinking is considered by many to be a normal part of life, it can be hard to determine when someone has crossed the line between casual drinking, alcoholism, or other drinking problems. But it’s important to recognize the signs that you or someone in your life may have a drinking problem–and to know how to get the help you need to regain control of your life and health.

So, where is the line between casual drinking and a problem that could require professional treatment? We put together a guide to help you recognize the signs of alcoholism and other drinking problems. If you want to learn more or are interested in starting a holistic treatment program, reach out to the Woburn Wellness Addiction Treatment team today.

What is Casual Drinking?

Many people enjoy alcohol from time to time. A glass of wine with dinner, a drink after work with colleagues, or beer at a sporting event or family gathering may be a regular part of life for most US adults.

Health experts generally agree that moderate drinking can be part of a healthy lifestyle and is not linked to serious short or long-term health risks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define moderate drinking as:[1]

  • One drink per day or fewer for women
  • Two drinks or fewer per day for men

A “drink” is defined as:

  • 12 ounces of beer
  • 8 ounces of malt liquor
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits

Regularly drinking more than the CDC recommends may cause significant mental and physical health complications, including the development of alcoholism.

What are the Dangers of Drinking Too Much?

Regularly drinking too much alcohol is associated with a range of physical and mental health conditions. But how much is too much?

The CDC recommends that people should abstain from drinking alcohol or drink in moderation. Drinking more than recommended means:

  • For women, having 8 or more drinks in a week, or more than 4 drinks in a single occasion
  • For men, having 15 or more drinks in a week, or more than 5 drinks in a single occasion

Alcohol abuse impairs your judgment and can lead people to engage in risky behaviors, including driving under the influence and having risky sex. Being intoxicated raises a person’s risk of being involved in an assault, sustaining injuries in an accident, or other unintended events.

Long-term heavy drinking can also cause severe health complications, including:[2]

  • Bleeding in the stomach or esophagus
  • Pancreas disease, swelling, and damage
  • Liver damage
  • Cancers, including esophagus, liver, breast, colon, and others
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Damage to brain cells
  • Depression
  • Sleep disruption

It’s critical to get help for a drinking problem as soon as possible to avoid worsening consequences of alcohol abuse, including alcoholism.

Casual Drinking vs. Alcoholism: Understanding the Difference

or some, casual drinking is not a problem. But for others, casual drinking can be the beginning of unhealthy patterns of drinking that develop into a serious problem. It’s essential to understand the differences between casual drinking vs. alcoholism and be able to recognize when someone’s relationship with alcohol has become unhealthy.

Casual drinking–defined as drinking moderately–is a pattern of alcohol consumption that does not have a significant short or long-term impact on your life or health. People who drink casually are in control of their drinking. They don’t drink more than planned, can choose to stop if they want to, and use alcohol to socialize–not to manage stress or cover up other emotions.

Alcoholism is a total loss of control over drinking. People with alcoholism are not in control of their alcohol use because their body is dependent on alcohol. Without drinking alcohol, they experience intensely uncomfortable–sometimes dangerous–withdrawal symptoms. Their bodies cannot function without alcohol, so they cannot choose to stop drinking, even if the consequences are severe.

drinking or a drinking problem

Get The Care You Need and Deserve

Woburn Wellness Addiction Treatment is a leader in the addiction treatment field, with proven success in facilitating long-term recovery. Our team of top clinical & medical experts specializes in treating addiction coupled with mental illness, ensuring that each person receives individualized care. Call us – we’re available 24/day, 7 days/week.

Signs of a Drinking Problem

Many signs of a drinking problem can show up before a person develops alcoholism. Some of the signs of problematic drinking include:

  • Needing to drink more to get the same effects (tolerance)
  • Neglecting responsibilities at home, work, or school
  • Financial or legal trouble related to drinking
  • Being injured or causing an accident while intoxicated
  • Engaging in risky behaviors while drinking
  • Isolating
  • Using alcohol to numb stress and uncomfortable emotions like anger, sadness, loneliness, or boredom

These signs may suggest that a person requires treatment to stop drinking. It’s important to seek treatment as soon as you recognize a problem.

People who drink at all must be aware that it only takes one episode of excessive drinking to alter the course of your life. If you or someone you love has an unhealthy relationship with alcohol or you want to learn more about casual drinking vs. alcoholism, reach out to an addiction specialist near you to learn more.

Find Help for a Drinking Problem Now

If you or someone you love shows signs of a drinking problem, don’t wait another day to get the help you need. Reach out to the Woburn Addiction Treatment specialists to learn more about how our treatment programs and support can get you back on the path toward the healthy, sober lifestyle you deserve to live.


Inessa Maloney, MS, LMHC
Clinical Director

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