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Social Drinking

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What is a Social Drinker?

A social drinker is someone who drinks in social situations.

This includes events such as:

  • Work outings
  • Parties
  • Other gatherings with family and friends

Social drinkers often consume a moderate amount of alcohol and are well within their safe drinking limits, though this isn’t always the case. 

It’s important to note that social drinking habits vary from situation to situation and culture to culture. Someone with a low-risk for alcohol use disorder (AUD) and no health risks has less to worry about than someone at risk for a substance use disorder (SUD) or who is in poor health.


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Is Social Drinking OK?

Social drinking can be OK, but it depends on the person and the amount of alcohol consumed during social drinking experiences.

Social drinking is viewed as acceptable because of the reasons people list for social drinking. For instance, common reasons for social drinking include:

  • Relaxation in social situations
  • Fitting in and sharing the drinking experience with peers
  • Celebrating milestones and special occasions
  • Improving health

Moderate social drinkers tend not to use alcohol to self-medicate mental health conditions, nor do they experience physical cravings for alcohol. However, problem social drinkers can experience these issues, especially if they consume more than moderate amounts of alcohol.

Whether or not social drinking is OK is based on the person and the reasons he or she chooses to drink. 

When Can Social Drinking Become a Problem?

As mentioned above, social drinking can develop into alcohol abuse. Though moderately drinking certain types of alcohol like a glass of wine offers some health benefits, it can also be dangerous. Regular drinking increases a person’s risk for:

  • Cardiovascular events
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Liver health problems
  • Some types of cancer
  • Alcohol use disorder (AUD)
the health effects of alcohol

It’s also important to note that even very limited alcohol consumption can be dangerous, depending on the circumstances. For example, drinking any amount of alcohol is dangerous if you are:

  • Pregnant
  • Breastfeeding
  • Driving/DUI
  • Are in an otherwise risky or dangerous situation
  • Taking medications that do not mix with alcohol
  • Have an increased risk of alcohol use disorder (AUD)
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What is the Difference Between a Social Drinker and a Moderate Drinker?

In many cases, the terms “social drinker” and “moderate drinker” are used interchangeably. But this isn’t always the case. “Moderate” deals more with the amount of alcohol a person consumes, while “social” describes the environment in which a person consumes alcohol.

Many moderate drinkers are social drinkers because they enjoy a moderate amount of alcohol when they are socializing. But in some cases, people who consider themselves social drinkers are drinking more than a healthy amount of alcohol. They refer to themselves as social drinkers because they do not drink when they are alone.

For some people, there comes a time when their social drinking turns into a problem. In some cases, this develops into being an alcoholic.

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How Can You Tell If Someone Is an Alcoholic?

Some of the warning signs of alcoholism or alcohol use disorder (AUD) include:

  • Not knowing when to stop drinking
  • Not being able to stop drinking even if you know it is time to do so
  • Drinking to the point of inebriation before a social gathering
  • Multiple instances of binge drinking
  • Including many heavy drinkers in your social circle
  • Blacking out multiple times
  • Experiencing physical withdrawal symptoms when not drinking
  • Engaging in risky behavior when drinking
  • Issues with friends and family members
  • Problems at work or school
  • Feeling shame over alcohol intake
  • Using alcohol as an escape or to self-medicate
  • Denial of a problem with drinking when confronted by loved ones
  • Spending money, time, or other resources on alcohol if it causes a problem
  • Needing to increase the number of drinks to achieve the same effect
  • Spending a lot of time with a hangover or feeling poorly after drinking

A person does not need to show all of these signs to have an alcohol addiction. However, in most cases, if a person considers his or her alcohol consumption a problem, or they seem to be a problem drinker, it’s smart to seek help.

If you have concerns about your alcohol consumption, try to not drink alcohol for a week or more and see how you feel. If the time spent not drinking is a struggle, seeking help is a good idea.

What Treatment Options/Resources are Available for Someone Who Has Transitioned from a Social Drinker to an Alcoholic?

If you have concerns about drinking too much, but the problem has only occurred for a short time and hasn’t interfered with anything in your life, behavioral changes can help. For example:

  • Avoid social settings where you know people are drinking, especially if they are binge drinkers
  • Make sure you have a response ready for when someone offers you a beer
  • Drink non-alcoholic beverages in social settings
  • Consider taking up a new hobby
  • Focus on improving your health
  • Don’t keep alcohol in your home

If you or someone you know is beginning to engage in heavy drinking often, or is displaying other unhealthy drinking patterns such as blackouts from drinking alcohol, this may be a sign of substance abuse. If the effects of alcohol are beginning to hinder their productivity, giving them health issues, or changing their relationships, it may be time to seek addiction treatment.

Social Drinking FAQs

What is considered a social drinker?

A social drinker is someone who regularly drinks alcohol in various social situations, but drinking doesn't cause them physical, mental, or personal problems.

Is social drinking OK?

Social drinking is generally safe as long as the drinker stays well within their limits of safe alcohol consumption and does not engage in risky behavior.

What is the difference between a social drinker and a moderate drinker?

These terms are generally interchangeable, though they have slightly different implications. Social drinking refers to someone who drinks in social settings, whereas moderate drinking refers to someone who drinks one drink a day (for women) or two drinks a day (for men).

What is the definition of a problem drinker?

A problem drinker is someone who experiences mental, physical, or social problems in their life due to their alcohol consumption.

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Updated on March 16, 2022
8 sources cited
  1. “Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).” Nih.Gov, 2017,
  2. “Do I Have A Drinking Problem? 11 Signs of Alcohol Use Disorder.” Uofmhealth.Org, 2018,
  3. Caudill, B. D., & Marlatt, G. A. . Modeling influences in social drinking: An experimental analogue. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 43, 405–415.,
  4. Christine M. Lee, et al., "Social Motives and the Interaction Between Descriptive and Injunctive Norms in College Student Drinking," Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs 2007 68:5, 714-721,
  5. Pliner, P., & Cappell, H. . Modification of affective consequences of alcohol: A comparison of social and solitary drinking. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 83, 418–425.
  6. Senchak, M., Leonard, K. E., & Greene, B. W. . Alcohol use among college students as a function of their typical social drinking context. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 12, 62–70.
  7. Moss, A. C., & Albery, I. P. . A dual-process model of the alcohol–behavior link for social drinking. Psychological Bulletin, 135, 516–530.

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