Social drinking is tolerated in many cultures around the world. It is accepted as a legitimate way to celebrate special occasions or just to relax after a hard day at work. Drinking in moderation tends to be viewed as a harmless activity. It is only those who are habitually intoxicated who get judged as engaging in dangerous behavior. In reality there is no level of alcohol use that can be considered completely risk free.
There are a number of benefits that people obtain from social drinking. This is why the activity has been popular for thousands of years. Alcohol is often described as a social lubricant. People tend to feel more relaxed after a drink or two and a bit less self-conscious. The effects of alcohol make it easier for people to shake off responsibilities a few hours. There are many social occasions that are based around alcohol consumption and these can be great fun. Some studies even suggest that drinking in moderation may bring certain health benefits. It is these beneficial aspects of alcohol that ensure its continued popularity.
There is disagreement as to what constitutes social drinking. An individual who regularly goes to the bar and drinks heavily might still claim to be a social drinker. For a lot of people the words ‘social drinker’ just means not exhibiting the classic signs of alcoholism. This vague definition is not helpful because it is too wide. It means that a person who is destroying their mental and physical health through overindulgence could still claim to be a social drinker. It is therefore necessary to have a more precise definition of what is being described. The problem is getting agreement for what this definition should be.
It is possible to define a social drinker in a number of ways. A definition could be based on the amount the individual drinks or their relationship to alcohol. One way to describe a social drinker would be to say that these are individuals who:
* Only drink occasionally.
* Do not feel the need to drink alcohol in order to have a good time.
* Never get into trouble because of alcohol.
* Don’t do or say things they regret while drinking.
* Do not spend a lot of time thinking about alcohol.
* Feel no need to control their intake. Such individuals never drink enough to worry about having to cut back.
Another way to define social drinking would be to consider the safe limits of alcohol use. The recommendation is that men between the ages of 21 and 65 should not consume more than 2 drinks a day. Women and everyone who is over the age of 65 should not consume more than one drink per day. Here a drink is considered a standard beer or a standard glass of wine. A lot of people would argue that these safe limits are unrealistic.
A study in the UK found that 83% of respondents believed that those who drank above the safe limits could still be considered social drinkers. The results of this survey are worrying because it means that most people are unaware of the risks of drinking in excess of the recommended limits.
Even those people who drink in moderation can still encounter alcohol related problems. This is because alcohol is a toxin that causes damage to the body even in small doses. Those who drink regularly above the safe limits are at increased risk of:
* Certain cancers
* Cardiovascular accidents
* High blood pressure
* Accidents while under the influence
* Progression to alcohol abuse and addiction
For some individuals it is not safe for them to drink any alcohol at all. Those people who have developed a chemical addiction to alcohol require lifelong abstinence. Pregnant and breastfeeding women also need to refrain from alcohol. Individuals who take certain medications will be advised against drinking.
The move from social drinking to problem drinking can occur over a long time period. The individual is often unaware of this progression. As social drinking moves toward addiction, the individual will use denial as a means to rationalize their increasingly dangerous behavior. It is only when they are forced into a position where they need to control their alcohol use that their problem becomes more obvious.
Even though the drinker may be unaware of their slide into alcohol abuse, there are warning signs. They will usually experience at least one of the following:
* DUI or other legal problem due to alcohol
* Continued alcohol use despite negative consequences
* Failure to meet responsibilities at home or in the workplace
* Alcohol use is leading the individual into dangerous situations
If the individual continues to abuse alcohol, they will eventually develop a chemical addiction. Their body adapts to high levels of alcohol in the blood stream and reacts badly when the substance is withdrawn. Many of those individuals who develop a chemical addiction to alcohol will never recover from it. Those who do recover usually find that it requires a great deal of effort.
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