I was thinking about some of the confusion regarding the different terms used to refer to those that drink. Some of these terms include problem drinkers, social drinkers, and high-functioning alcoholics. However, although people may think these terms are the same, they are not and all describe a different level of alcoholism.

Social Drinker- individuals who drink in low-risk patterns. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), “low-risk” drinking for females consists of no more than 7 drinks per week and no more than 3 drinks per sitting. For males, it consists of no more than 14 drinks per week and no more than 4 drinks per day.

Problem Drinker- individuals that display clear differences between their drinking habits and those of alcoholics. In fact, according to the NIAAA, 72% of people have a single period of heavy drinking that lasts 3-4 years and peaks at ages 18-24 (typically occurs during the college years) that they phase out of. When problem drinkers are given sufficient reason to cut back on their drinking (ie, have a negative drinking consequence, debilitating hangover, becomes a parent), they are able to self-correct and return to drinking in a low-risk manner.

Alcoholics/High-functioning alcoholics- may be given countless reasons to cut back on their drinking but they are unable to permanently cut back on their drinking. Alcoholics may have occasions where they drank in a low-risk manner, but they inevitably return to their alcoholic drinking patterns. High-functioning alcoholics (HFAs) in particular tend to minimize their drinking by falsely labeling it as a “problem” or as “heavy” drinking because they often do not believe that they fit the stereotype of the typical alcoholic. However, what defines an alcoholic is a person’s relationship to alcohol and not how they appear to the outside world in terms of their personal, professional or academic life.

 

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