Social Drinking: A Comprehensive Overview

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What do a wedding, a business dinner, graduation, and watching the Super Bowl final at your best friend’s house have in common? Well, the answer is that alcohol will probably be present in all of these social events. Alcohol consumption is a huge part of our society, as evidenced by the fact that approximately 63% of people 18 years and older in the US consume alcoholic beverages. Although most of these people do not suffer from alcohol-related problems, most of them experience what is known as ‘Social Drinking.’

Social drinking is nowadays considered normal and harmless; this is often reinforced by how the media portrays alcohol. However, social drinking may have some negative effects and hidden risks that you need to be aware of. This article is a complete guide to understanding social drinking and its implications for learning to enjoy alcohol responsibly.

What is Social Drinking?

Many people frequently ask, ‘What does drinking socially mean ?’ Well, the definition of social drinking can be tough to outline sometimes as it may occur in different forms. However, the social drinking definition of the consumption of alcoholic beverages in social settings, like parties, gatherings, or casual meetings with friends and colleagues, is pretty accurate. A social drinker seeks alcohol as a way of socializing, relaxing, and enjoying rather than getting intoxicated or coping with stress.

No set number of alcoholic drinks defines social drinking. However, the CDC considers moderate drinking as two drinks per day for males or one drink per day for females. Therefore, if someone self-identifies as a social drinker, they should not consume more than 14 drinks per week for males and 7 for females.

Occasional drinker vs social drinker: Is there a difference?

While there can be a substantial overlap between occasional drinking and social drinking, and some people may use the terms interchangeably, there are some distinctions between the two terms:

  • Occasional drinking refers to the action of consuming alcoholic beverages sporadically, while social drinking involves drinking alcohol at social events.
  • Occasional drinkers may drink alcohol on specific occasions such as weddings, holidays, and graduations. Social drinkers typically consume alcohol as a normal part of their social events.
  • The frequency of alcohol consumption among occasional drinkers is relatively low. On the other hand, social drinking often occurs more regularly and as a part of a social routine.
  • Occasional drinking is not necessarily linked to socializing, as individuals may drink alcohol sporadically for personal enjoyment. On the other hand, the primary purpose of social drinking is to enhance socialization, build connections, and relax in social settings.

Social Effects of Drinking Alcohol

Social drinking can have various social effects on individuals and society. Some of these effects include:

Positive effects:

  • Social bonding
  • Enhanced enjoyment
  • Cultural significance
  • Networking opportunities

Negative effects:

  • Impaired judgment
  • Negative social consequences
  • Potential progression to alcohol dependence and addiction
  • Financial struggles

When Does Social Drinking Become Problem Drinking?

A social drinker is someone who consumes alcohol in a social context. They often have a normal life, and alcohol does not affect their daily routine, health, or personal life. Social drinking can become “problem drinking” when alcohol begins to negatively impact the well-being, functioning, and relationships of a person. Some people may start as social drinkers, but their habits may evolve into those of problem drinkers. The transition may be evident when someone starts to spend a lot of time drinking alone instead of doing so to socialize with other people. You should be aware that problem drinking is a broader term that may include alcoholism.

Social Drinking vs. Alcoholism

Social drinking and alcoholism are different patterns of alcohol consumption. Fundamentally, their respective motivation is distinct, as social drinking is guided by the need to socialize and enjoy with friends or family. At the same time, alcoholism is a true health condition that involves physical alcohol dependence. So, there is no such thing as a social alcoholic.

Although most social drinkers do not necessarily become alcoholics, they should be aware that this may be a possibility if they are not conscious of their drinking habits. Drinking socially may start as something sporadic, but social drinkers may enter into denial about their relationship with alcohol. This, in turn, may cloud their judgment and make them unaware of the increasing risk of developing a harmful relationship with alcohol.

What are the Warning Signs of Alcoholism?

When social drinking starts to cause some issues in your personal life, or you start to feel a need to start drinking without being in a social setting, it is time to take a closer look. Warning signs can be subtle. However, it is important to recognize them as they can reflect an escalation in your drinking pattern. This, in turn, is crucial for early intervention and appropriate support.

Some of the warning signs that your social drinking is  becoming alcoholism are:

  • Bad alcohol cravings (physical dependence)
  • Increased alcohol tolerance
  • Difficulty limiting the amount of alcohol you drink
  • Start drinking alone
  • Drinking before social gatherings
  • Spending more time thinking about alcohol
  • Alcohol withdrawal symptoms
  • Increased drinking frequency
  • Neglecting your responsibilities due to alcohol
  • Experiencing problems in your relationships with family, friends, or colleagues
  • Deny a problem when others express concerns about your drinking
  • Increasing the quantity of alcohol you drink
  • Being unable to quit drinking
  • Binge drinking
  • Alcohol-induced blackouts
  • Using alcohol as a tool to cope with stress

The Effects of Social Drinking on Well-Being

Social drinking, when done responsibly and in moderation, can have both benefits and risks to an individual´s well-being.

Benefits of Social Drinking

The benefits of social drinking are similar to those of moderate alcohol consumption. However, people must make informed choices about their alcohol consumption while considering their situation.

Some common benefits of social drinking are:

  • Increased social interaction with feelings of validation
  • Stress reduction and relaxation
  • Following cultural and social norms
  • Improved appetite and digestion
  • Enhanced mood and creativity

Risks and Harms of Social Drinking

Excessive social drinking can lead to problem drinking and, if more severe and sustained, to alcoholism. In the meantime, it can also have a lot of negative short- and long-term consequences.

Some of the potential risks and harms associated with social drinking are:

  • Liver damage
  • Increased risk of cancer
  • Increased likelihood of having cardiovascular problems
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Weakened immune system
  • Mental health issues (depression and anxiety)
  • Memory and cognitive impairment
  • Interpersonal conflicts and violence
  • Legal problems
  • Increased financial burden
  • Increased risk of accidents
  • Escalation towards addiction
  • Impaired work or academic performance
  • Decline in overall health and quality of life

Responsible Social Drinking

Although it would be best to quit drinking altogether, if an individual is a social drinker who is fully aware of his relationship with alcohol and has a harmless drinking pattern, they can benefit from certain tips to be a responsible social drinker.

Responsible social drinking involves enjoying alcohol in moderation while prioritizing safety, health, and well-being. If an individual chooses to continue drinking, here’s how to stay safe:

  • Gain education about alcohol use disorder
  • Avoid consuming alcohol alongside medications or illegal substances
  • Always eat before drinking alcohol
  • Maintain hydrated all the time
  • Know your limits and stick to them
  • Understand your alcohol tolerance
  • Avoid binge drinking
  • Be mindful of your drinking environment
  • Never drive while drinking
  • Seek professional help if social drinking escalates


In conclusion, social drinking is a very common issue in the US. While it involves alcohol with the primary purpose of socializing, relaxation, and enjoyment rather than getting intoxicated or dealing with stressful situations, it could evolve into problem drinking and, in more severe cases, alcoholism. Therefore, it is crucial to identify warning signs that can tell us if social drinking is transitioning into an alcohol-related problem. Finally, understanding the benefits of social drinking and its risks may help emphasize the need for responsible social drinking.

If you or a loved one are experiencing issues with social drinking, problem drinking, or alcoholism, do not hesitate to seek professional help. Addiction Resource is here to help you. Feel free to call our confidential helpline (800-913-1755) at no cost.

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Page Sources

  1. University of Rochester Medical Center: Social Drinking vs. Problem Drinking
  2. National Library of Medicine: Drinking Together and Drinking Alone: A Social-Contextual Framework for Examining Risk for Alcohol Use Disorder
  3. Patient: Alcoholism and problem drinking
  4. National Library of Medicine: Social and Cultural Contexts of Alcohol Use
  5. National Library of Medicine: The effects of alcohol on emotion in social drinkers

Published on: March 9th, 2018

Updated on: May 24th, 2024


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