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Social Drinking as a Path to Alcoholism

It is not specifically known when alcohol became such a prevalent and social drink in American culture. You will see, in the present day, that it is not uncommon to see alcohol sold at bars, restaurants, clubs, and now even some fast-food corporations. You can even get alcohol delivered to your house (with proper form of ID). So, alcohol has become a huge part of American culture. It is also a part of how we socialize. When there is an event or special occasion, it is normal to see alcohol present, even to the point where drinking a few times a week is considered a normal activity. Social drinking can be defined as drinking casually in a social setting. Social drinking has been around for a very long time because alcohol has been around for a long time, “with some estimates putting the date as far back as 10,000 B.C.” [1].

What are some reasons people might drink socially? Well, as mentioned before, celebrations of any kind can be a reason to drink, but there are also other factors. One factor may be relaxation. Maybe you go to an event and you feel a little tense, so you want to find a way to loosen up so you can have fun. Alcohol is one way you might choose to loosen up, and you could feel more relaxed and social or outgoing after drinking alcohol. Another reason that people drink socially is to fit in. You may feel pressured to drink because everyone else is doing it, and you don’t want to be the oddball of the group or get called out for not wanting to drink. Social drinking is also influenced by “advertising, product placements, and stories in a wide range of sources, including movies, television, social media, and other forms of entertainment” [2]. In these advertisements, people are usually at a bar watching a football game, enjoying a beer on the beach, or having wine at an intimate dinner with friends. We are seeing it everywhere, and as enjoyable as alcohol can be, sometimes drinking can take a turn.

There is a point where you can tell that social drinking is not just social drinking anymore. Most people who socially drink do not decline into alcoholism, but it is a very real possibility for those that do socially drink. Some ways you can tell that social drinking may have turned into alcoholism is if: they are craving a drink, they need to drink large amounts because their tolerance has increased, their body is dependent on alcohol to function, they have symptoms of withdrawal without alcohol, they hide or sneak alcohol, they get defensive when someone mentions their drinking, they need alcohol to relax/have fun. These problems can lead to problem drinking (drinking 7-14 times a week) and alcohol dependency.

Alcohol misuse is a current problem, leading to “considerable morbidity and mortality (100,000 deaths annually), social and legal problems, acts of violence, and accidents” [3]. This disorder is more common among men than women and often is not diagnosed, so it is hard to personally know whether alcohol misuse is present. Alcoholism can be passed down through the family and is comorbid (it usually is paired with anxiety disorders, mood disorders, drug abuse, and personality disorders). Some influences can happen because of environment and upbringing. Besides specific marketing tools that alcohol brands use to advertise their products, there is also influence from discrimination, community influences, cultural norms, and family/peer influences. For many of these reasons, alcohol is consumed as a coping mechanism.

The government recommends safe levels of alcohol consumption, which are as follows:

● Two drinks per day for a man

● One drink per day for a woman

● A standard-sized drink in the U.S. = is “12 g of alcohol:

○ one 12 oz bottle of beer (4.5 percent); or

○ one 5 oz glass of wine (12.9 percent); or

○ 1.5 oz of 80-proof distilled spirits” [3]

Alcoholism can have a major effect on your mental, physical, and emotional health. Some of the symptoms include: “recurrent intoxication, nausea, sweating, tachycardia, amnesic episodes (blackouts), mood swings, depression, anxiety, insomnia, chronic fatigue, grand mal seizures, hallucinations, delirium tremens, dyspepsia, diarrhea, bloating, hematemesis, jaundice, tremor, unsteady gait, paraesthesia, memory loss, erectile dysfunction” [3].

Suppose you or a loved one are going through drinking problems. In that case, there is a test called the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) that “is considered to be the most accurate test for identifying problem drinking” [3]. It is a screening and consists of 10 questions. Depending on the participant's answers, they can score a maximum of 40 points total for all 10 questions. Anything above 8 points can suggest that the participant is problem drinking. You can take the test HERE.

What can be done to treat someone who is suffering from problem drinking or alcohol dependency? This depends on how severe the relationship this person has with alcohol is. There are different types of treatment, some of which include brief interventions, immediate treatment, and sustained treatments [3].

● Brief Interventions

  • This strategy is based on short-term counseling, where the focus is mostly on “changing patient behavior and increasing patient compliance with therapy” [3]. This will usually last a few sessions (around 4) that are each around fifteen minutes to an hour.

● Immediate Treatment:

  • This treatment is for patients who are experiencing an extreme level of withdrawal. In this case, pharmacotherapy (the use of medication) may be needed. The patient should also, in this case, “be admitted to the hospital for detoxification if they are likely to have severe, life-threatening symptoms or have serious medical conditions, suicidal or homicidal tendencies, disruptive family or job situations, or are unable to attend outpatient facilities” [3].

● Sustained Treatment:

  • Problem drinking is something that can potentially last for a long period of time. For someone who is continuously suffering from alcohol dependency or problem drinking, long-term treatment may be needed to maintain abstinence. In this case, psychosocial treatments may be utilized, which aim to “concentrate on helping patients to understand, anticipate, and prevent relapse” [3].

Of course, there are an abundant amount of resources and treatment plans to better fit individual needs. Finding what treatment is right for you is important, but the first step is reaching out for help. It is never too late to seek help, whether that is from your peers, family, friends, doctor, etc. It is recommended to speak to your doctor if you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above.


1. Moss, A. C., & Albery, I. P. (2009). A dual-process model of the alcohol–behavior link for social drinking. Psychological Bulletin, 135(4), 516.

2. Sudhinaraset, M., Wigglesworth, C., & Takeuchi, D. T. (2015). Social and Cultural Contexts of Alcohol Use: Influences in a Social–Ecological Framework. Alcohol Research: Current Reviews, 38(1), 35-45.

3. Enoch MA, Goldman D. Problem drinking and alcoholism: diagnosis and treatment. Am Fam Physician. 2002 Feb 1;65(3):441-8. PMID: 11858627.

4. Williams, A. F. (1966). Social drinking, anxiety, and depression. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 3(6), 689–693.

5. Ham, L. S. (2009). Positive social alcohol outcome expectancies, social anxiety, and hazardous drinking in college students. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 33, 615-623.



Author: Kayjah Taylor

Editor: Lauryn Agron

Health scientist: Naiya Upadhyay

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