4 categories of drinkers

Generally, motives for drinking alcohol fall into 4 categories, which include social drinking, drinking to conform, drinking for excitement, and drinking to cope.

Every person who drinks alcohol may have reasons for doing so. Some may drink to reinstate their social status, whereas others may drink to elevate their depressed mood. 

Generally, motives behind drinking fall into 4 categories that include:

  1. Social drinking (to celebrate): Most people drink for social reasons or to double their fun.
    • Across cultures and countries, social motives have been the most common reason for drinking. For such people, drinking is a social pastime.
    • People mainly drink to chill with their friends and families and have fun with their loved ones.
    • People who drink for social reasons drink moderately. They often know their limits and never overdo them.
  2. Drinking to conform (to fit in): For some people, drinking is not a choice they prefer to make, but they do so on social occasions just to fit in.
    • They usually drink less than people who drink for other reasons.
    • Most people will hold a glass of wine to avoid feeling different, whereas some may sip a glass of champagne.
    • Some may drink to please their colleagues or seniors or fit in a particularly cool group they were eyeing for long.
  3. Drinking for enhancement (to bring out excitement): Some people drink for excitement, adventure, and thrill beyond social motives.
    • These people are aggressive, extroverted, and impulsive.
    • Mostly, adolescents and young adults engage in this type of drinking to seek a thrill. They may further engage in risky behaviors such as speed driving and lawbreaking.
  4. Drinking to cope (to forget worries): Some people drink to overcome their negative emotions such as anxiety, depression, or shortcomings.
    • Generally, these people have a low self-image or negative view of themselves. They may resort to alcohol to combat their anxiety, depression, or other problems in life.
    • People who drink to cope:
      • Are mostly women.
      • Drink more heavily.
      • Experience more alcohol-related problems than those who drink for other reasons.

Although alcohol may give short-term relief to your emotions, its long-term consequences are undesirable and far worse than the problems you were trying to cope with. When underlying problems remain unaddressed, drinking behaviors worsen, leading to further complications.

3 types of alcohol consumption

Based on the frequency of alcohol consumed, drinkers can be classified into three types:

  1. Light or social drinkers: They drink on occasions and generally do not face any problems or negative consequences. These people are mature enough to handle their alcohol intake and hardly pass out or lose control. Alcohol doesn’t occupy their thoughts, and hence, they are never prone to mood swings, fighting, or violence.
  2. Moderate drinker: Light drinkers may change to moderate drinkers when they drink more often. They drink to the extent of facing the harmful effects of alcohol. People can go for long periods of alcohol abstinence, but they might binge after seeing alcohol.
  3. Heavy drinkers: These people are addicted to alcohol. Alcohol mostly occupies their mind, and they are prone to constant mood swings, fighting, or violence. They may have a high tolerance and require more alcohol to get original effects. Some of the negative consequences faced by heavy drinkers include:
    • Ruined relationships
    • Jeopardized health
    • Problems in work and social circles

Why is knowing the motives for a drinker important?

Research has reported that knowing the motives of heavy drinkers can help during interventions.

One study has reported that addressing anxiety and depression in young women and counseling them regarding the ill effects of alcohol has led to decreased consumption; however, no such changes were seen in men.

While research has studied the motives of young adults and adolescents, the reasons behind adult drinking have hardly been studied.

People who drink to forget about their problems should remember that they would face them in the morning when the effect of alcohol fades. If something bothers you, it is better to discuss it with your loved ones or seek professional help than take refuge in alcohol or other harmful habits.


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Who is considered an alcoholic?

The exact reason for someone to get an alcohol use disorder (AUD) is not completely understood.

The term alcohol use disorder (AUD) refers to a condition in which a person has a strong and compulsive desire to consume alcohol despite the presence of negative consequences or impact on their life. The term alcoholic was previously used for a person with such a condition, but because it carries a negative or discriminatory message, the terms alcoholic and alcoholism are not used anymore. 

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a person can be diagnosed as suffering from AUD if they meet any two of the following criteria within the same 12-month period:

  1. Spending a lot of time obtaining, using, and recovering from the effects of alcohol.
  2. Cravings or a strong desire to use alcohol.
  3. Being unable to cut down on alcohol use despite a desire to do so.
  4. Continuing to abuse alcohol despite negative interpersonal or social problems that are likely due to alcohol use.
  5. Using alcohol in physically dangerous situations (such as driving or operating machinery).
  6. Drinking more or for a longer time than originally intended.
  7. Continuing to abuse alcohol despite the presence of a psychological or physical problem that is probably due to alcohol use.
  8. Being unable to fulfill major obligations at home, work, or school due to alcohol use.
  9. Giving up previously enjoyed social, occupational, or recreational activities due to alcohol use.
  10. Having a tolerance (i.e., needing to drink increasingly large or more frequent amounts of alcohol to achieve the desired effect).
  11. Developing symptoms of withdrawal when efforts are made to stop using alcohol.

What causes someone to be an alcoholic?

The exact reason for someone to get an alcohol use disorder (AUD) is not completely understood. Researchers suggest that chronic alcohol consumption affects the brain of a person to the extent that they become physically, emotionally, and mentally dependent upon alcohol. There are several factors that put people at risk, including:

  • Psychological disorders like depression and anxiety
  • Low self-esteem  
  • Lack of belonging or feeling out of place
  • Childhood history of mental, physical, or sexual abuse
  • Having the first alcoholic drink at an early age (between 11 and 14 years). 
  • Family history of AUD
  • Peer pressure
  • Personal losses or failures
  • Proximity to alcohol retail stores or bars: Researchers suggest that people who live closer to alcohol establishments tend to have a more positive view of drinking and are more likely to participate in the activity.

How many alcoholic drinks a day are considered safe?

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 suggests that drinking up to one standard drink per day for women and up to two standard drinks per day for men can be considered as a safe or moderate level of drinking. In the US, a standard drink contains approximately 14 grams (0.6 ounces) of pure alcohol, which is typically found in the following:

  • Five ounces of wine (12 percent alcohol content).
  • Eight ounces of malt liquor (7 percent alcohol content).
  • Twelve ounces of beer (5 percent alcohol content).
  • One and a half ounces or a “shot” of 80-proof (40 percent alcohol content) distilled spirits or liquor (e.g., vodka, whiskey, gin, rum).



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Medically Reviewed on 2/11/2022
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