Drinking Alone: Risks and Potential Signs of Alcohol Dependence

Last Updated: May 25, 2024

Dr. Ash Bhatt Reviewed by Dr. Ash Bhatt
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Many of us unwind after a long day with a relaxing beverage. You may uncork a bottle of wine after a stressful meeting or open a beer after a demanding shift.

It’s so common that many of us don’t pause to consider: Is drinking alone a sign of alcoholism, or is it simply a way to relax? While enjoying a drink is often associated with socializing and having fun with friends, about 14% of adolescents and 15–24% of young adults tend to drink by themselves.

Since the line between solitary drinking and the development of alcohol use disorder (AUD) can be blurry, continue reading to learn about the difference between relaxing and problem drinking.

Drinking by Yourself

Drinking solo involves consuming alcohol without the company of others.

This behavior can vary from having a glass of wine with dinner at home to more frequent and heavier drinking sessions in isolation. While occasional solitary drinking might simply be a way to relax or enjoy a quiet evening, regularly drinking alone can sometimes raise concerns about potential risks for developing unhealthy drinking patterns or alcohol dependence.

Why Do People Drink Alone?

Drinking alcohol, whether in social settings or alone, has been associated with higher levels of alcohol consumption and related issues.

However, solo drinking, while less frequent than social drinking, has a distinctive connection to heavier drinking and more alcohol-related problems. Specifically, drinking alone is often linked to an increased tendency to drink for negative reinforcement purposes, such as stress relief.

Other reasons why people drink alone include:

  • Without social controls, solo drinking can lead to heavier drinking.
  • People with AUD might drink alone to hide their habit.
  • Drinking alone to feel happier or more euphoric.
  • Using solo drinking to sidestep judgments or conflicts.
  • Preferring the solitude of drinking alone.
  • Turning to alcohol when feeling isolated or bored.
  • Drinking to alleviate symptoms of mental health issues.
  • Managing the amount and pace of drinking privately.
  • Using alcohol as an escape from personal problems.

Is Drinking Alone Bad?

Drinking alone isn’t inherently bad and doesn’t automatically signal an alcohol problem.

Many people enjoy a drink alone to relax or unwind after a long day, similar to enjoying a cup of coffee alone in the morning. Research suggests the context, frequency, and reasons behind solitary drinking are crucial in determining whether it could become an alcohol disorder.

Drinking alone frequently can signal underlying issues, such as depression or social withdrawal. For instance, if a person who usually enjoys a healthy social life starts preferring to drink alone, it might suggest feelings of depression or failing social connections.

When Drinking Alone at Home Becomes a Problem?

Drinking alone becomes a problem when it is no longer an occasional choice but a regular habit, especially if it is used as a primary way to cope with negative emotions or stress.

Here are some signs that your solitary drinking habit can be problematic:

  • You drink alone more often and in larger amounts than you initially intended.
  • You drink to deal with stress, loneliness, anxiety, or depression.
  • Drinking alone interferes with your work, personal responsibilities, or relationships.
  • You experiencing negative emotions related to your solitary drinking habits.
  • If you can’t relax or enjoy yourself without a drink, even alone.
  • Preferring to drink alone instead of participating in activities you once enjoyed.
  • Feeling physical withdrawal symptoms when not drinking.

Keep in mind that these signs might match the criteria for alcohol dependence as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5). If you have noticed these signs over the past year, speaking with a healthcare professional can help you get the support you need.

Risks of Drinking by Yourself

Getting drunk alone in your room can carry several risks, especially if it becomes a regular practice. Here are some of the potential risks associated with solitary drinking:

Physical Health Risks of Drinking Alone

  • Alcohol Poisoning: Alone, you’re more likely to drink too much, raising the risk of alcohol poisoning.
  • Accidents and Injuries: Solo drinking can lead to falls or burns with no one around to assist.
  • Chronic Health Problems: Frequent solo drinking can lead to liver disease and digestive issues.

Mental Health Risks of Solo Drinking

  • Depression and Anxiety: Drinking alone can exacerbate mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
  • Social Isolation: Drinking alone can become a habit that leads to social withdrawal.
  • Addiction: Solitary drinking can be a sign of alcohol dependence and can lead to alcohol addiction.

Social and Relational Risks Solitary Drinking

  • Relationship Strain: This can lead to issues with loved ones.
  • Decreased Social Interaction: Reduces social skills and interactions.
  • Financial Issues: Leads to spending more money on alcohol, inability to keep a job
  • Employment Problems: Affects job performance and stability.
  • Legal Issues: Increases the risk of legal troubles related to alcohol use, aggression and assault.

Depression and Drinking Alone

Anxiety and mood disorders, like depression, often happen alongside alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Among those with AUD, depression is the most frequently seen psychiatric condition. When alcohol and depression are comorbid, they tend to be more severe and have a poorer outlook than when each is on its own. This combination also significantly increases the risk of suicidal behavior.

Since individuals diagnosed with AUD are 2.3 times more likely to have experienced major depressive disorder in the past year, if you have persistent feelings of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness, difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much, or recurrent thoughts of death or suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit their website.

Alcohol Dependence Risk Mitigation Tips

Enjoying a drink (or two) doesn’t have to cause havoc. Here are some tips to help you mitigate the risk of developing alcohol dependence, especially if you find yourself drawn to solo drinking:

  • Stick to recommended daily limits (generally one drink/day for women and two drinks/day for men)
  • Avoid consecutive days of drinking or binge drinking.
  • Opt for social drinking over solitary sessions.
  • Develop coping mechanisms for stress and boredom that don’t involve alcohol.
  • Alternate alcoholic drinks with water or non-alcoholic beverages.
  • Be mindful of your consumption. Keep a log of how much you drink.
  • If you’re concerned about your drinking habits, don’t hesitate to talk to a healthcare professional.

Is It Bad To Drink Alone? − Final Thoughts

Drinking alone isn’t necessarily a negative thing, but it can sometimes be a warning sign of deeper issues, such as loneliness or depression.

It might not be a concern if it is an occasional choice for relaxation or self-reflection. However, if it becomes a regular habit or a way to cope with negative feelings, it might be worthwhile to reach out for support. Reflect on the reasons behind your solitary drinking. If drinking alone starts to negatively impact your life or relationships, it may be time to reassess this behavior.

Seeking professional help or a support group can be a crucial step between a healthy life and long-term chronic diseases.

People Also Ask

Is it bad to drink?

Moderate drinking is generally considered safe, but heavy drinking, especially alone, can raise health and dependence risks. It can lead to dependence, worsen mental health, and increase health problems like liver damage.

What to do when drunk alone?

If you are feeling tipsy while drinking alone, stop drinking and grab water and food to slow alcohol absorption. Find a comfy spot to relax and avoid risky activities. If you need help, call a friend, family or emergency services.

Is it normal to go drinking alone?

It is not uncommon, but it should be occasional and in moderate quantities. Frequent solo drinking, especially to cope with negative feelings, might indicate an underlying health problem.

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Page Sources

  1. Creswell, K. G. (2021). Drinking Together and Drinking Alone: A Social-Contextual Framework for Examining Risk for Alcohol Use Disorder. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 30(1), 19. https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721420969406
  2. Corbin, W. R., Waddell, J. T., Ladensack, A., & Scott, C. (2020). I drink alone: Mechanisms of risk for alcohol problems in solitary drinkers. Addictive Behaviors, 102, 106147. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2019.106147
  3. Cook, M., MacLean, S., & Callinan, S. (2023). Home alone: Patterns and perceptions of solitary home alcohol consumption in an Australian convenience sample. Drug and Alcohol Review, 42(5), 1018-1027. https://doi.org/10.1111/dar.13600
  4. Alcohol use Disorder: A comparison between DSM–IV and DSM–5 | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). (n.d.). https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-use-disorder-comparison-between-dsm
  5. McHugh, R. K., & Weiss, R. D. (2019). Alcohol Use Disorder and Depressive Disorders. Alcohol Research: Current Reviews, 40(1). https://doi.org/10.35946/arcr.v40.1.01

Published on: March 9th, 2018

Updated on: May 25th, 2024

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