Does social drinking make me a “habitual drunkard” and ineligible for U.S. citizenship?

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Question:

I’m filling out Form N-400, the Application for Naturalization. I have been a lawful permanent resident for over five years, am fluent in English, and haven’t had any run-ins with the police, so I figure it is time I became a citizen. I notice that one of the questions asked whether I am a “habitual drunkard,” however. What does this mean? I am certainly not an alcoholic, but I often enjoy a wine or beer with dinner, and like to meet friends at the local bar on Friday nights. Are the immigration people going to ask me about or investigate this?

Answer:

As you probably noticed, the phrase “habitual drunkard” has an old-fashioned sound to it. It comes from a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.) that has been on the books for many years, which says that no one can be found to have good moral character who “during the period for which good moral character is required to be established, is or was -- a habitual drunkard.” (See I.N.A. Section 101(f).)

In more modern terms, that is usually taken to mean someone who is an alcoholic, or who drinks to excess in ways that get the person in trouble – for example, by being arrested on such grounds as public drunkenness, disorderly conduct due to alcohol abuse, or driving while under the influence (DUI or DWI). In fact, such arrests on a person’s record are the most common way in which U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) finds out about the alcohol problem.

A social drinker who has not become addicted to alcohol and does not drink to the point of getting into trouble with the law is not likely to be considered a “habitual drunkard” by USCIS, and thus should not be barred from U.S. citizenship on good moral character grounds.

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