Drinking Alcohol: Why Is It Socially Acceptable?

Adults enjoy the occasional alcoholic drink for many reasons like celebrating a holiday, honoring someone, catching up with old friends. The list goes on. Alcohol has been socially acceptable for decades.

Even though we know the long-term risks of drinking on our health, people continue to use alcohol regularly.

Binge drinking means having five or more alcoholic beverages for men and four or more for women within two hours. Binge drinking has become socially acceptable as well. In some communities, it’s a rite of passage for young adults despite the alcoholism risks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that one in six adults “binge drinks” four times a month. This activity is associated with deadly car accidents, violence, sexually transmitted diseases, heart disease, and alcohol use disorders. With so many negative consequences, why does drinking continue to be socially acceptable?

What Is Social Drinking?

Social drinking has become an integral part of American culture. But, it has been used throughout history to gather with friends and celebrate special occasions. Over time, this behavior has made drinking such an everyday activity that social drinking problems are often ignored.

So, is there a difference between social drinkers and alcoholics or people with alcohol use disorders? The short answer is “Yes.” Understanding the difference between the types of drinking is key to preventing the development of an alcohol use disorder. Here are some breakdowns and warning signs of alcoholism that could stop social drinking from becoming a problem.

Social Drinking vs. Alcoholic Drinking

The line between social drinking and alcoholic drinking is often blurry. People will try to define each standard of drinking using a specific amount of alcohol. For example, some say, “If you drink x amount, or x days out of the week, you’re an alcoholic.” However, that’s not always an effective way to distinguish between normal and abnormal drinking.

A social drinker is someone who drinks moderately and only in social situations. Drinking doesn’t affect daily routines or cause mental or physical health problems. However, over time, social drinkers can increase their consumption, change their drinking habits, and develop alcohol use disorder.

What Is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism includes uncontrollable drinking. It is often challenging and sometimes dangerous for alcoholics to stop drinking alcohol without the assistance of an addiction treatment specialist. Here are a few warning signs that indicate when social drinking may become problematic:

  • You drink daily outside of mealtime.
  • You participate in several social binge drinking sessions a week.
  • You get drunk before you arrive at social events.
  • You have driven drunk or regularly blackout.
  • People do not want to be around you when you’re drinking.
  • Your drinking behaviors make you feel shame or guilt.
  • Friends or family are concerned with the amount you drink.
  • Alcohol is a way you relieve stress or escape negative feelings.
  • You will finish another person’s alcoholic drink.
  • You don’t like to imagine life without alcohol.
  • You get defensive when someone questions your drinking habits.

Alcohol abuse isn’t something that happens overnight. But, it’s important to know alcohol addiction symptoms if they affect you or someone else in the future.

What Makes Alcohol Popular?

There is a difference between alcohol being socially acceptable and being popular. For example, getting your teeth cleaned by a dentist is socially acceptable. But, people do not have parties to celebrate the event or binge on medical visits.

Dental cleanings are not popular, but alcohol is, perhaps because it is viewed as necessary for relaxation or fun. Alcohol is linked to social situations like celebrations and parties. Some people are so dependent on alcohol for socialization that they feel like they cannot have fun without it.

Alcohol has increasingly been used as a coping mechanism in our society. It helps “take the edge off” and relax certain people. These are just a few reasons alcohol has become so popular and socially accepted in the United States.

Why Is Alcohol Acceptable and Other Drugs Are Not?

It has been repeatedly proven that alcohol is dangerous physically, mentally, and emotionally. However, it is still a legal drug that anyone over the age of 21 can purchase. The laws surrounding alcohol have become less restrictive, and you can now purchase alcohol at more locations and during extended hours. Even today’s movie theaters serve alcohol!

So, why doesn’t alcohol have the same stigma or regulations as other drugs, such as marijuana? For starters, nearly half of the population admits to drinking alcohol. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 85.6 percent of adults report consuming alcohol during their lifetime.

The Constitution protects everyone’s freedom of religion. Many believe this right would be in jeopardy if alcohol were prohibited since many religions use alcohol in ceremonies.

Economics plays a role in making alcohol socially acceptable, as well. Nearly 4 million people work in the alcohol industry. And, approximately 446 billion liters of alcohol (beer, wine, and spirits) are purchased for consumption every year around the world.

Why Do Drinking Problems Develop?

Even though it is legal, alcohol is a highly addictive drug. Once a drinker forms a tolerance to alcohol, they need more of the substance to feel its effects, leading to alcohol dependency. Within dependency, a drinker cannot function without alcohol in their system and may get sick from withdrawals.

Drinking problems are most common in people ages 18-24. That being said, younger teens and even adolescents can experience trouble with alcohol. NIAAA research finds that people who start drinking before age 15 are 50% more likely to develop alcohol dependence in adulthood.

Can an Alcoholic Become a Social Drinker?

Social drinking is considered to be a low-risk activity. However, drinking in any amount can be dangerous for someone in recovery from an alcohol use disorder. If you have a history of uncontrollable and unpredictable alcohol consumption, even a tiny amount of alcohol is dangerous. Some scientists say that people with addiction will never be able to return to social drinking.

If you or someone you know is in recovery from alcohol addiction, it’s best to avoid activities with alcohol. Some problem drinkers may be able to control their drinking for a short period. But, if they have alcoholism, they will eventually revert to problematic drinking.

Dealing with the Presence of Alcohol in Recovery

Because alcohol is socially acceptable, it is almost impossible to avoid it altogether. If you’re recovering from alcoholism, use these tips to deal with triggers and safely get out of the situation.

  • Be honest about your recovery and request non-alcoholic drinks when possible.
  • Have a prepared response to drink offerings, such as, “Not tonight, thank you.”
  • Bring a sober friend to social gatherings so that you have support.
  • Remind yourself why you chose to quit, especially when you’re facing temptation.
  • Make social connections with people who don’t drink and support your decision.
  • Consider having a non-alcoholic cocktail if you feel pressured to drink.
  • Never feel bad if you need to leave a situation where you’re feeling pressured.

Finding Help for Alcohol Addiction

Because our culture has made alcohol consumption socially acceptable, many people develop alcohol addiction without knowing or recognizing it. People who drink one glass of wine a night to help themselves unwind could gradually drink more each night.

Eventually, a glass of wine could turn into an entire bottle of wine earlier in the day.

As long as drinking continues to be the standard, people will struggle to see the signs of dependency and addiction. People with alcohol use disorders may put off treatment because they figure “everyone drinks.”

When someone needs rehabilitation, a trusted facility is the best place to start. You can begin to get your life back on track and learn about what caused your addiction. Then, you’ll put steps in place to help avoid a relapse in the future.

Ready to Begin Recovery from Alcohol Addiction?

If you or someone you love struggles with alcohol addiction, help is nearby. One of the most critical steps to recovery is finding a treatment center. The Recovery Team compassionately understands the challenges of taking that first step.