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Emotional Health

Quick Dose: What’s the Difference Between Social Drinking and Alcoholism?

Alcohol is the most common substance abused in the United States. However, the social acceptance of drinking can make it difficult to spot when there is a problem. What is the difference between social drinking and alcoholism?

  • A social drinker, or a low-risk drinker, is typically defined as a female who has no more than seven drinks per week or no more than three drinks per sitting, or a man who has no more than 14 drinks per week or no more than four per day.
  • An at-risk or heavy drinker may consume more than those amounts, but individual risks vary.

Here are some signs your drinking may be a problem.

  • Drinking alone or in secrecy. This isn’t a glass of wine alone at night. This is a frequent occurrence, and may be accompanied with trying to hide bottles or minimize the amount you consumed.
  • Drinking is a priority. Social events may revolve around drinking. You may also make excuses, like celebrating or having a bad day, every day.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms. These include headaches, anxiety, restlessness and heart palpitations.
  • Inability to control how much you consume. Once you start, you have difficulty stopping, and you may not know your tolerance.

Heavy drinking can lead to cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver caused by liver disease. The scar tissue hardens the organ, causing it to fail. A recent study reveals that alcohol-related liver deaths are skyrocketing, particularly among millennials.

If you recognize these signs, consider seeking help.

Haripriya Maddur, MD, Northwestern Medical Group, Hepatology

Haripriya Maddur, MD
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