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Published on February 01, 2015

When Social Drinking Crosses the Line

SIOUX FALLS (Feb. 1, 2015) – When does social drinking cross the line into more dangerous realms of binge drinking and even addiction? Alcoholism can affect people from all walks of life, and even people who seem to have it all together aren’t immune.

Social drinking is having one or two drinks with family and friends at gatherings such as a wine tasting event, wedding reception, tailgate party or evening out. “Moderate drinking” is defined by no more than one to two drinks a day, three to four times a week. One drink equates to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1 ounce of 100-proof liquor.

Binge drinking is having any more than five drinks in one setting, and addiction is when drinking becomes an obsession. “It becomes such an integral part of someone’s life, it’s like an intimate relationship. When you take away the drugs or alcohol, it’s a huge loss, and people struggle physically, psychologically and emotionally,” said Leah Rath, MA, LPC-MH, LAC, Outpatient Therapist with the Addiction Recovery Program at Avera Behavioral Health Services.

Some people can engage in social drinking their whole adult lives and never run into problems. Others struggle from the get-go. Likewise, some people can stop when they first recognize their drinking is becoming a problem, and others can’t. “It’s hard to know which one you’re going to be unless you come to that point,” Rath said.

“There’s a genetic predisposition to addiction,” Rath said. For example, if you have a parent or sibling who struggled with addiction, you are up to four times more likely to become addicted.

There are also environmental factors. “Some families have alcohol around often and consider it to be acceptable to overdo or become intoxicated. People who grew up around it are more likely to repeat those pathways,” Rath said. “Also, we tend to drink the way people around us drink. If people around us are binging, we’re more likely to binge.”

It’s the environmental factor of peer behavior that might lead high school and college students into binge drinking and partying – even though it’s illegal for those under age and unhealthy. “Many mature out of that stage, but those who don’t tend to have more potential to develop addictions. They are not able to learn to set limits,” Rath said.

Rath pointed out the following warning signs of drinking that’s out of control:

  • You drink more than you intended to at a party or event
  • Your daily functioning is impacted by your drinking, for example, you’re late to work, or let your household chores go
  • You use alcohol to manage your moods, calm your nerves, relax or get to sleep
  • Your drinking worsens a chronic condition that you already have, such as diabetes or thyroid trouble
  • Your social and personal life begin to revolve around alcohol, and if it’s not available, you try to figure out a way to get it
  • You seek out friends whose social lives revolve around drinking

If use of alcohol or drugs or even gambling gets out of control, help is available. How much you drink and how frequently you drink helps determine what type of help is needed. Options range from education about responsible use of alcohol, to individual counseling, outpatient treatment and inpatient care. Group settings designed around the 12-step program are helpful for many people.

Some people might have difficulty seeing a drinking problem in themselves, but a close friend or family member has concerns. “Often it begins with making an appointment with a counselor to talk about your drinking, and explore what’s actually going on,” Rath said.

Avera Behavioral Health Center offers a free, confidential assessment line at 800-691-4336. Go to to learn more. Face It TOGETHER Sioux Falls offers long-term peer support and referrals to various types of treatment and support. You can learn more at or call 855-432-2348 or 605-274-2262.

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