Social Drinking: Moderation Vs. Being At-Risk for an Alcohol Use Disorder

Ginny enjoys a good cocktail. They considered themselves a classic “social drinker”. Prior to the pandemic Ginny enjoyed going out with friends on the weekends, socializing at the bars/ clubs, and checking out the latest local trends in food and drink. They especially enjoy trying a new craft cocktail. Ginny’s friends describe them as easy-going and socially responsible. Ginny typically does not drink during the work week. It is rare to see Ginny intoxicated.

Ginny’s father, Tom also considers himself a “social drinker”. Tom enjoys mixing up a stiff cocktail or two after work to “unwind” with the demands of this job. In addition, he enjoys drinking on weekends. It is not unusual for Tom to binge drink when at parties or hosting social events at his home. While Tom does not see a problem, close friends and family members have begun to express concern about always having a drink in hand and his increased tolerance. They are worried about alcohol-consumption effects on health, including the possibility of developing an alcohol use disorder and being at increased risk for health problems.

What is Considered a Standard Drink?

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism (NIAAA), a standard drink (or alcoholic drink-equivalent) in the US contains 0.6 fl ounces of pure alcohol. Here is what this would look like:

  • 1.5 oz of distilled spirits with about 40 percent alcohol content
  • 12.0 oz of beer with about 5 percent alcohol content
  • 5.0 oz of wine with about 12 percent alcohol content

While Ginny and Tom both consider themselves social drinkers, what defines heavy alcohol/ problematic use versus drinking in moderation?

The NIAAA defines heavy alcohol use as more than 4 drinks on any day for men or more than 3 drinks for women. Keep in mind a mixed drink includes on average 2 shots! Binge drinking is 5 or more drinks for males and 4 or more drinks in females, in about a 2- hour period.

What is Considered Moderation?

It is recommended that adults choose not to drink, or drink in moderation. For adults 21+, moderation is limiting to 2 drinks or less a day for men and 1 drink a day or less for women. For older adults (65+), the recommendation is no more than 3 drinks/ day or 7 drinks a week for adults who are healthy and do not take medications.

Some adults should not drink alcohol at all such as pregnant women and those who have certain underlying health conditions and/ or are taking medications.

If you or a loved one are concerned about alcohol use, or have concerns that alcohol use is becoming problematic, it is important to make some healthy changes early.

CARE has a team of clinicians with experience working with substance use concerns, including clinicians who are Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselors (LADC). You can also contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Hotline at 1-800-662-4357 for referral and treatment options in your area.

Written By: Charlotte Johnson, MA, LPCC

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