By Dr. Edward A. Selby, Ph.D.
How do you tell if a person’s drinking alcohol or taking drugs at a family gathering or social event is normal versus a sign of something much worse?
Social gatherings are some of the most important and enjoyable events of life. Whether such events include attending a concert, celebrating a holiday, or immersing yourself in a championship sporting event, social gatherings can provide us with a sense of belonging and purpose. To heighten the enjoyment, many groups will use alcohol during the event to relax and have fun, and in some cases, people also bring drugs to the party. Because of this, social gatherings and events are also some of the most frequent settings for problematic alcohol or drug use. While it is one thing to consume moderate quantities of alcohol or other drugs for fun and entertainment, sometimes things will get out of control, leading to people acting in problematic or harmful ways because of too much use.
Social gatherings and parties are situations where more frequent legal problems arise due to substance use, such as arrests for disorderly conduct or DUI.
Patrick & Azar (2018) indicate that high-intensity drinking is more likely to occur during special occasions and celebrations including holidays, sporting events, and birthdays (notably 21st birthdays). While substance use in many of these settings might be considered “socially normative,” meaning that it’s considered socially acceptable, there is a delicate line between socially acceptable substance consumption and dangerous consumption. Problematic or dangerous substance use at social gatherings or during the holidays can include the following; erratic or high-risk behaviors (e.g., deciding to drive while intoxicated, perceptions of invincibility leading to jumping from high places, etc.), increased quarreling with others present or even physical fighting, overconsumption of the substance leading to overdose, vomiting, or losing consciousness, becoming distressed at the prospect of not having access to the drug or alcohol, or changes in mood such as intense feelings of depression or manic exuberance (AAC, 2021).
If someone you know is exhibiting signs of addiction or problematic alcohol or drug use, they should be encouraged to seek help and reach out to a medical substance abuse treatment center for detox treatment and rehabilitation treatment options.