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Drinking Habits

What Is Social Drinking?

June 8, 2023
10 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
June 8, 2023
10 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
June 8, 2023
10 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
June 8, 2023
10 min read
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Reframe Content Team
June 8, 2023
10 min read

Imagine you're at a gathering, a space buzzing with lively chit-chat and laughter. Held firmly in your grasp is a glass, its contents seemingly imbued with the power to dissolve barriers and facilitate interaction. It's a prop in your hand, offering a sense of comfort in moments of awkward silence. This scenario is not an unfamiliar one. Indeed, it's a vivid portrayal of social drinking, a practice deeply interwoven into our social rituals. However, does social drinking merely represent an innocuous social convention, or does it have more profound implications worthy of consideration? Let's embark on an exploration to decode the layers of social drinking.

Social Drinking: A Cultural Overview

Why do people drink? Social drinking is a practice that enjoys a deep-rooted presence in our culture, often serving as a cornerstone for social gatherings. Ranging from laid-back meetups to grand celebrations, alcohol is frequently cast in the spotlight. The substance is perceived as an accelerator of connection, a tonic for social unease, and a symbol of joyful occasions. Yet, the concept of social drinking assumes diverse forms across different societies and individuals. For some social drinkers — those who drink to relax, fit in with the crowd, or celebrate special events — it could mean having a glass of wine over dinner. For others, it could imply engaging in frequent rounds of drinks at a bustling bar in the company of friends. Despite these varying interpretations, one unifying element pervades all definitions — the aspect of sociability — consuming alcohol in a social context.

The Psychology Behind Social Drinking

Social drinking carries intriguing psychological underpinnings. Alcohol has a known disinhibiting effect, which can instill a sense of relaxation in social settings. It has the potential to calm the storm of awkwardness, fuel our confidence, and infuse a sense of effortlessness into our social interactions. Furthermore, social drinking often engenders a feeling of camaraderie and shared experiences, thereby serving as a powerful social ice breaker. However, while alcohol may temporarily soften the edges of social discomfort, it's essential to recognize that it's not a long-term solution for deeper, ingrained social anxieties or insecurities. And in fact, if we are not mindful about our intake, long-lasting problems can arise.

Social Drinking Vs. “Drinking Problem”

Social drinking usually falls within the realm of acceptability. However, it's critical to remain cognizant of the thin boundary that separates it from a "drinking problem". Social drinking begins to inch toward concern when it paves the way to heavy drinking or when we feel the pressing need to consume alcohol to navigate social situations smoothly. Signs that could indicate a shift from social drinking to AUD or to alcoholism include a pattern of drinking to the point of intoxication, a reliance on alcohol to derive enjoyment from social events, or encountering negative outcomes as a result of drinking (such as conflicts, injuries, or persistent hangovers). If we or someone we know begins to exhibit these signs, it might be an alarm indicating the need to reevaluate our relationship with alcohol.

Social Vs. Problematic Drinking

Social Drinking and Health Implications

It's crucial to bear in mind that alcohol, even when consumed socially, carries potential health risks. According to the WHO, no amount of alcohol is truly safe for us. Even moderate amounts of alcohol can interfere with our sleep, cause weight gain, and lead to headaches and dehydration.

Excessive drinking, in turn, can give rise to a plethora of health complications, including liver disorders, heart conditions, an elevated risk of certain cancers, and neurological issues. In fact, according to CDC, excessive drinking was responsible for about 178,000 deaths in the United States from 2020 to 2021.

Moreover, drinking at any level on a regular basis can exacerbate mental health concerns, such as depressive and anxiety disorders. Our cognition suffers and we are at risk of accidents and injuries. Thus, even when we partake in social drinking, it's paramount to do so judiciously, keeping our health and wellness at the forefront.

The Art of Responsible Social Drinking

Being a responsible social drinker revolves around awareness of our personal boundaries and making informed decisions that place our well-being at the helm.

  • Going at a slow pace. It entails drinking at a slow and steady pace, without succumbing to pressure to match others drink for drink. 
  • Opting for low-alcohol options. It involves opting for drinks with a lower alcohol content when available, alternating alcoholic beverages with non-alcoholic ones.
  • Nourishing the body. It also means ensuring we have a well-nourished body before and while drinking.

  • Not relying on alcohol. Moreover, responsible social drinking signifies that we aren't reliant on alcohol as a tool for socializing. We're perfectly capable of being engaging, humorous, and charismatic without the influence of alcohol, and recognizing this is a crucial step toward nurturing healthier social interactions.
  • Staying safe. In addition, responsible social drinking advocates for a conscious plan to get home safely. This might involve appointing a designated driver, using public transportation, or hiring a taxi. Ensuring a safe return home not only protects us, but also safeguards others on the road, thus extending the concept of responsibility beyond ourselves.

Understanding social drinking is more than just acknowledging its cultural and psychological aspects. It also involves recognizing the potential health implications, being aware of the fine line between social drinking and a “drinking problem,” and practicing the art of responsible drinking. By comprehending these facets, we can navigate the social seas with an informed mind, ensuring that our journey on the waves of sociability is safe, enjoyable, and healthy.

Drink Less and Thrive With Reframe!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

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Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today! 

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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