Alcohol consumption occurs frequently in social situations. For many, it can ease stress and increase pleasure. Recognizing why people drink alongside their peers and the consequences of getting carried away could help you understand more about social drinking.
Drinking is a common social activity. People meet with friends or co-workers over drinks at the end of a workday to decompress or attend events that offer alcohol. It is an activity shared by everyone from college students to business executives.
Around the world, millions of people engage in this activity for various reasons. However, unregulated or irresponsible social drinking could spur problems that could last a lifetime.
Social drinking is casual alcohol consumption in a social setting, such as a bar or restaurant. It commonly occurs on special occasions, such as birthdays, Cinco de Mayo or New Year’s Eve.
Many people tend to relax when drinking socially. This is because alcohol affects brain function, changing moods and behaviors. It binds to receptors in the brain that boost dopamine levels, which activate pleasure.
Social drinking is part of American culture. However, engaging in the activity multiple times a week could give way to heavy drinking, defined as four or more alcoholic beverages a day for men and three for women on five or more days in a month.
Heavy drinking could cause people to engage in activities that jeopardize their safety.
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For thousands of years, alcohol and socializing have gone hand in hand. The activity is featured in religious texts, Roman literature and historic artworks.
In ancient Greece, Socrates would offer wine to philosophers during gatherings. In the 16th century, Mexicans would drink pulque, a fermented drink, in vinaterías. In Colonial America, early settlers would fill taverns and share news with one another.
Alcohol was an infamous part of Woodstock in 1969 and has been such at countless outdoor concerts since.
Since then, social drinking has remained popular. During Oktoberfest, crowds engage in beer drinking and celebrations. Alcohol was an infamous part of Woodstock in 1969 and has been such at countless outdoor concerts since. It also is common at sporting events.
Christine Sismondo, author of “America Walks into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops,” says alcohol changes the way people relate to one another. “You end up with accelerated relationships — and occasionally cantankerous ones,” she told Smithsonian magazine in 2011.
The purpose of many drinking environments, such as happy hours, is to foster social bonding. A number of venues beyond bars or pubs foster social drinking.
There are a variety of reasons why people drink socially. For example, alcohol helps some people take the edge off in social situations. Others just want to fit in.
However, many rely on alcohol to enhance their communication skills at social functions.
Individuals often turn to alcohol before an evening out with friends. For many, it is perceived to be a social lubricant that improves mood, reduces self-consciousness and enhances social skills.
A study published in Psychological Science supports this theory. Alcohol increased social bonding among a group of drinkers, who were more engaged in discussions than those with nonalcoholic beverages. The social drinkers were also more likely to involve everyone in these conversations.
Alcohol helps create a comfortable environment for some partygoers. It enhances dopamine levels, increasing drinkers’ generosity, empathy and friendliness.
Social anxiety disorder is a mental health condition in which individuals experience heightened stress in social situations. They may fear doing or saying something embarrassing in front of strangers, friends or a group of people. In response, they turn to alcohol.
The tension reduction theory, which states individuals with social anxiety consume alcohol at social functions to reduce stress, may explain why. Many are motivated by the idea that alcohol reduces anxiety. If alcohol alleviates anxiety once, the likelihood of continued social drinking increases.
Some researchers say alcohol increases stress, but studies have provided inconsistent results. Investigations often use college students with varying levels of social anxiety to examine the theory, rather than patients with social anxiety disorder.
Anxiety-induced alcohol consumption can give way to alcohol dependence. About 20 percent of patients with a social anxiety disorder also have an alcohol use disorder. For these individuals, alcohol and social situations could be problematic.
Social drinking is generally a low-risk activity done in secure environments. However, people tend to drink more in social situations, which can harm the drinker and his or her peers.
According to the alcohol myopia theory, alcohol consumption narrows perception and causes individuals to pay closer attention to a few internal or external factors. Consequentially, people may focus on pleasures rather than consequences.
Alcohol impairs our ability to identify dangerous situations. For example, an inebriated person may concentrate on a friendly smile rather than the risk of driving home with a stranger. The theory suggests people make illogical, simple decisions in complex situations.
Alcohol can manipulate the way we think. Therefore, consuming the substance in social settings can give way to miscommunication.
A 2010 study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology revealed men who consumed moderate amounts of alcohol perceived friendly photos of women as sexual. They misinterpreted facial expressions and body language.
This is common in bars across America. Alcohol disrupts our ability to interpret the motives of others, leading to social mistakes or even violence.
Drinking more than you can handle is common in social situations. Someone may try to catch up to a peer who is on a third drink or may stay out later than usual. This can give way to embarrassing and dangerous situations.
Careless social drinking could cause individuals to drink and drive, commit violence, have unprotected sex or black out. Alcohol poisoning, another potential consequence, could lead to death.
To avoid problems, social drinkers must know their limits. Columbia University laid out strategies to control your drinking in social situations:
These strategies could prevent drinkers from breaking the law or engaging in risky behaviors. It could also help them arrive home safely.
Drinking regularly, socially or not, can cause addiction. Regular consumption of alcohol at social functions could increase your tolerance and desire to continue engaging in the activity.
Nearly 17 million Americans, including nearly 680,000 adolescents, struggle with an alcohol use disorder. Some of these individuals have co-occurring disorders. In some instances, alcohol serves as a gateway drug to other dangerous substances, including heroin and cocaine.
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Though social drinking has its benefits, it can be dangerous. An environment filled with alcohol could lead individuals to drink in excess and engage in risky behaviors.
Individuals in recovery must be especially careful. If you attend such an event, do not be afraid to say no and don’t give in to peer pressure. Try to bring a friend who understands your commitment to sobriety.
Remember: One drink could cause relapse. Individuals are most vulnerable to relapse during the early months of sobriety. Attending events that do not include alcohol is encouraged.
Excessive alcohol use is the fourth-leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Do not become a statistic. If social drinking has led you or someone you know to abuse alcohol, contact a nearby treatment center.