A person who considers themselves to be a social drinker is still at risk of developing a drinking problem. Much of this can be attributed to a history of alcohol addiction in the family. It is possible for someone who has drank socially for several years and never experienced any dependency on alcohol to discover that they have slowly become an alcoholic.
The major differences in someone who just drinks socially and someone who has developed alcoholism is that a social drinker can choose when to drink and make rational decisions about when they have had enough to drink or how many drinks they should have to begin with. An alcoholic will have a hard time deciding when enough is enough and may feel that they have to have alcohol or they will not be able to function.
Some signs to look out for are if you or someone that you know is starting to drink more often and consumer larger quantities than usual, if they are drinking at odd times that seem unusual, or if they are trying to hide the fact that they are drinking. Chances are if you have to keep your drinking a secret and do not want anyone to know about it then you have a serious problem and what you need is to let someone else know who will be honest with you and let you know if you have an issue.
Unless you are in a deep state of self-denial then the average person can usually tell if they need help or not. Social drinkers may not see the problems arising in themselves because of their previous notion that they are fine and can control their drinking. This is where the problem gets out of control and the person who drinks socially becomes an addict.
Things that may cause someone who has never had a problem with alcohol to suddenly find themselves faced with a life full of dysfunction and addiction can range from simple and small changes that have recently occurred to spur on more drinking to large and devastating things that have happened. Loss, change, and denial are often times major contributors to something becoming a problem. Realize the source of the issue when it begins to start and staying addiction free should not be a problem. If you let a social act like drinking progress into something more then you are at risk of alcoholism.
Basically it all amounts to self-control and making decisions that will benefit you and not harm you. Be smart about your drinking and show some restraint. Often times people do not become alcoholics overnight, keep that in mind the next time you find yourself faced with the choice of having one more beer when you know that you have clearly had enough already.