Casual Drinking, Problem Drinking & Alcoholism

There are subtle differences between alcoholism, problem drinking and casual drinking. Casual or social drinking refers to consuming alcohol infrequently. It usually involves drinking responsibly. Problem drinking is associated with drinking too much, too often or in unhealthy situations. Alcoholism is a disease characterized by compulsive drinking despite negative consequences.
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Doctors need more than a rubric to diagnose alcoholism. A lot of people who drink end up getting drunk more often than they intended. Many people regret what they do or say when they drink. But that doesn’t mean they have the disease called alcoholism.

Different types of drinkers can be defined by the way they drink and the consequences that they experience.

The types of drinkers include:

Casual drinkers
Also known as social drinkers, casual drinkers are people who occasionally drink alcohol. They usually drink responsibly, which means they don’t get drunk or black out regularly.
Problem Drinkers
Problem drinkers consume alcohol frequently. They usually drink more than they mean to, and they regret what they do when they drink. Problem drinkers may experience some health effects, but they can quit drinking on their own.
Alcoholics cannot control how much they drink. Most alcoholics drink daily. They regularly experience problems in various aspects of life because of how much or how often they drink. These people require support groups or rehab to stay sober.

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol addiction, is a disease that makes it very difficult for a person to stay sober. One of the biggest warning signs for alcoholism is trying to stop drinking without success. But that symptom is also subjective.

If you make a pledge to stay sober for a week but you have a drink or two at happy hour with friends, that doesn’t mean you’re an alcoholic. You may be a casual drinker who sometimes gives in to peer pressure. If you’re capable of drinking responsibly, you probably aren’t an alcoholic.


Take our 11-question quiz to find out now.

Casual Drinking

Casual drinking is a pattern of low-risk drinking that involves consuming alcohol in low doses on rare occasions. People who drink casually, also referred to as social drinkers, typically consume alcohol no more than once per week or a few times each month.

You may identify as a casual or social drinker if you relate to the following statements:

  • I know when I should stop drinking.
  • I find a sober driver if I drink too much.
  • I drink only a few times each month.
  • When I drink, I try not to get drunk.

People who drink casually usually don’t get blackout drunk. However, they may have a low tolerance to alcohol and a high risk of getting drunk if they overindulge.

Problem Drinking

You don’t have to be an alcoholic to have problems with alcohol. Problem drinkers don’t necessarily need to go to a residential rehab center to stop drinking. But they may struggle to recognize how much alcohol is too much.

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You may have a problem with alcohol or a mild alcohol use disorder if you relate to the following statements:

  • I often drink when I’m alone.
  • I usually drink too much.
  • I make time in my daily or weekly schedule to drink.
  • I turn to alcohol when I’m bored.

People who have problems with alcohol may be capable of stopping on their own if they want to, but they may not recognize the negative effects of alcohol. Or they may not want to stop drinking.

Some of these people may require some form of therapy or support to learn how to control their drinking.


The biggest differences between an alcoholic and a problem drinker are the severity of alcohol-related problems and the person’s ability to control his or her drinking. A high-functioning alcoholic may appear to function normally, but they’re usually experiencing internal problems because of their drinking.

Most people with alcoholism experience problems at work or school. They often have legal problems or deteriorating personal relationships. And they usually require addiction treatment or support from peer groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, to get sober.

You may be an alcoholic if you identify with any of the following statements:

  • Others have told me that I drink too much.
  • Drinking causes problems at work or school.
  • I have tried to stop drinking, but I can’t.
  • I feel cravings or withdrawal symptoms when I go too long without drinking.

Alcoholics usually drink every day or almost every day. When they drink, they almost always drink too much. They experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms, such as headache, fatigue and anxiety, when they quit drinking. Alcoholics also feel physical cravings for alcohol.

If you think you’re an alcoholic, consider discussing your alcohol use with your health provider. If you’re unable to quit drinking, you should look into attending alcohol rehab.

If you’re unsure about whether you’re a casual drinker or a problem drinker, consider cutting back on your alcohol intake or committing to sobriety. Despite its prevalence, alcohol is a high-risk substance. You don’t need it to socialize and have fun. If you still want to drink casually, be sure to drink responsibly.

What Does It Mean to Drink Responsibly?

Drinking responsibly is a vague recommendation. Moderate drinking means consuming one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. But you can probably consume more than two drinks per day and still drink responsibly.

Responsible drinking can include drinking slowly so you don’t get drunk. It can also mean only letting yourself get inebriated when you know you’re in a safe environment surrounded by friends.

Ways to drink responsibly can include:

  • Only drinking on a full stomach
  • Having a glass of water in between drinks
  • Avoiding shots or drinks with high alcohol content
  • Avoiding drinking games
  • Having a sober driver available
  • Drinking only in appropriate settings

Drinking responsibly is relative to your situation. If you’re underage or in recovery from alcoholism, it’s impossible to drink responsibly. These people shouldn’t consume alcohol in any situation.

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Medical Disclaimer: aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

Chris Elkins, MA
Senior Content Writer,
Chris Elkins worked as a journalist for three years and was published by multiple newspapers and online publications. Since 2015, he’s written about health-related topics, interviewed addiction experts and authored stories of recovery. Chris has a master’s degree in strategic communication and a graduate certificate in health communication.

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