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Why Do People Drink Alcohol?

People consume alcohol for a variety of reasons. Some do it to relieve stress, others do it to have some fun, and some people drink because they no longer have control over their alcohol use.

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Some level of alcohol consumption is acceptable for most people, though their reasons for drinking may indicate healthy or unhealthy alcohol use behaviors. And sometimes alcohol use begins with moderation but can become compulsive, such as in the case of alcohol use disorders. Regardless of why you drink, it’s never too late or too early to seek out alcohol addiction treatment options.

Top 10 Reasons People Drink Alcohol

Individuals consume alcohol for various reasons, such as social gatherings, cultural norms, and personal factors.

These are the top 10 reasons people drink alcohol:

1. To Have Fun

Within a few minutes, alcohol can produce a sense of well-being and make people feel more talkative and confident. Drinking small amounts of alcohol can make people feel more social and help them loosen up. [1]

As the volume of alcohol consumed increases, people find their inhibitions are typically lowered. They may begin to act more loosely and experience an increased sense of fun. 

At a blood alcohol content (BAC) of up to 0.05%, you are likely to feel:

  • Happy
  • More talkative
  • Relaxed

A BAC of 0.05% to 0.08% results in lowered inhibitions and some impaired judgment and movement. At this level, you are likely still having fun but may consider slowing down how much more you drink. 

A BAC above 0.08% can cause effects that are no longer fun, such as:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Erratic emotions

A BAC above 0.15% can result in significantly impaired coordination, loss of consciousness, and difficulty breathing. 

In moderation, alcohol may help people enjoy themselves, though too much alcohol can quickly lead to many unwanted problems.

2. Stress Relief

Some people consume alcohol to reduce stress levels. As a depressant, alcohol helps to temporarily relax the body and mind. [2]

Drinking is a common coping strategy to reduce stress, though it can be risky. Using alcohol to treat stress is a learned habit in many people that is not generally healthy. When alcohol is relied upon to reduce stress, people put themselves at risk for an alcohol use disorder. 

Stressful life events also put people at risk for excessive alcohol consumption. People with a history of emotional distress, childhood trauma, or a family history of alcohol abuse may be more inclined to consume alcohol to relieve their stress. 

However, drinking alcohol to treat stress only offers short-term relief and greatly increases the risk of problematic alcohol use. 

3. Social Pressure

It is not uncommon to find oneself in a situation where you feel pressured to drink alcohol. In such situations, friends or peers may pressure you to drink alcohol or greater quantities of alcohol than you would on your own. Young adults, for example, may find themselves at parties where drinking games are played, and binge drinking occurs. 

Binge drinking is the most common type of excessive drinking. Four or more drinks at once for women, and five or more drinks at a given time for men, constitutes binge drinking. [3]

Binge drinking is mostly commonly seen in young adults, ages 18 to 34. Overall, one in six adults in the United States reportedly binge drinking. [3]

Avoiding social pressure to binge drink can help to prevent dangerous consequences of binge drinking, such as: [3]

  • Unintentional injuries
  • Risky sexual behavior
  • Cancer
  • Chronic diseases
  • Memory and learning problems

4. Self-Medication 

One reason people drink alcohol is to self-medicate mood and anxiety disorders. There is a high connection between mood disorders and substance use disorders, such as alcoholism. Some people use substances like alcohol to treat distressing mental health problems, like symptoms of anxiety. However, over time, this type of self-medication can lead to an alcohol use disorder. 

Researchers have found that nearly a quarter of individuals with a mood or anxiety disorder self-medicate with alcohol or drugs. Often, the mood or anxiety disorder started first, with a secondary substance use disorder developing later on. [4]

To reduce the risk of a substance use disorder, alternative coping strategies to self-medication, such as participating in behavioral therapy, must be identified and effectively employed. 

5. Escapism

Researchers have identified a connection between escapism and alcohol consumption. People faced with daily challenges may drink alcohol to feel temporarily relieved of their struggles. People who drink alcohol in order to escape reality indicate a lower overall satisfaction with life. [5]

When alcohol helps people effectively escape their problems, even for just a few hours, alcohol use is reinforced. Like self-medication, drinking to escape your problems increases the risk of an alcohol use disorder.

6. Rebellion 

Adolescence is a time of personal development, and many young people have the urge to test limits and rebel against certain rules. Underage drinking is one way that many young people rebel against society. 

Alcohol is the most widely used substance among young people in the United States. In 2021, nearly 6 million youth, ages 12 to 20, reported drinking alcohol in the past month. [6]

Adolescents are also more likely to drink alcohol as they get older. In 2021, less than 2 in 100 adolescents between 12 and 13 years old reported past-month alcohol use, compared to 1 in 5 teens who were 15 to 16 years old. 

As adolescents age, they often strive for more independence. Rebellion against the age requirement to legally drink alcohol is one way they may feel more independent.

7. Family History 

A family history of alcohol use predisposes individuals to use alcohol themselves. Studies have found that people with a family history of drinking problems are at an increased risk of also developing a drinking problem. [7] 

Children of alcoholics, for example, are approximately four times as likely to have problems with alcohol than people who have no such family history. [7]

Being aware of an increased risk for an alcohol use disorder is the first step in preventing one from developing. A family history of drinking problems is not a predetermination for further generations to also develop drinking problems. 

Rather, individuals should be more aware of their alcohol use, response to alcohol, and any problematic patterns of drinking that begin to develop, so they can be properly addressed promptly.

8. Physical Dependence

Once someone becomes physically dependent on alcohol, they will experience mild to severely unpleasant withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop drinking. To avoid uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, one may continue drinking. [8]

People dependent on alcohol can experience withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to stop drinking. Withdrawal symptoms from alcohol typically begin within eight hours to a few days after the last drink. 

Typical alcohol withdrawal symptoms include: [8]

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Sweating
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Tremors

People who have become severely dependent on alcohol may experience more serious withdrawal symptoms, including fever, hallucinations, and seizures, which can be life-threatening. If you’ve been drinking at high levels for a long time, you should not attempt to stop drinking on your own. [8]

Alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous, and medical treatment is recommended. FDA-approved medications are available for the treatment of alcohol withdrawal. 

These medications can reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms and increase the likelihood of a full recovery. In the case of moderate to severe alcohol withdrawal, withdrawing under the medical supervision of professionals in an inpatient or hospital setting is recommended. 

9. Alcohol Addiction 

Alcohol use disorder, or alcohol addiction, is considered a disease and chronic medical condition. People addicted to alcohol no longer have control over their drinking. They continue to drink alcohol because they experience significant psychological and physical symptoms when they attempt to stop. People addicted to alcohol no longer feel like they can function without alcohol in their systems. 

An estimated 14.5 million people in the U.S., ages 12 and older, have an alcohol use disorder. The disorder exists on a continuum, ranging from mild to severe, and requires a combination of treatment approaches. A mix of medical and behavioral interventions is often required to effectively treat most alcohol use disorders. 

People with a family history of alcohol abuse, childhood trauma, and emotional problems are at an increased risk for alcohol addiction.

10. Experimentation 

Curiosity to experience the effects of alcohol is one reason many adolescents drink alcohol, says the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). As adolescents get older, many become interested in testing new boundaries, including substance use. 

While experimentation in moderation may be expected to a degree, it is important to raise awareness of the potential health risks of alcohol use, particularly among young people. Adults who started drinking before the age of 15, for example, are 3.5 times more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder later in life than people who started drinking at age 21 or later. 

Alcohol can also greatly interfere with brain development, studies have found. The brain continues to develop into one’s 20s, and alcohol can impact both brain function and structure. Such interference can lead to cognitive and learning problems, as well as increase the risk for an alcohol use disorder. 

When Treatment Is Needed

There’s no question that alcohol is a fundamental part of our society. Drinking is part of most social events, like football games, concerts, and parties. 

For many people, drinking never presents a significant problem. They drink in moderation, and when they want to cut back, they do. For others, it isn’t so simple. If an alcohol use disorder is present, it’s usually not possible to simply stop drinking without professional help. Regardless of the reasons you started drinking, if it’s no longer a manageable part of your life, treatment can help. With professional alcohol addiction treatment, you can effectively address your alcohol use disorder and learn how to live without alcohol abuse.

Updated March 22, 2024
  1. What Are the Effects of Alcohol? (August 2022). Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care.
  2. Underlying Mechanisms in the Relationship Between Stress and Alcohol Consumption in Regular and Risky Drinkers (MESA): Methods and Design of a Randomized Laboratory Study. (October 2022). BMC Psychology.
  3. Binge Drinking. (November 2022). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  4. Self-medication With Alcohol or Drugs for Mood and Anxiety Disorders: A Narrative Review of the Epidemiological Literature. (July 2018). Depression and Anxiety.
  5. To Get High or to Get Out? Examining the Link Between Additive Behaviors and Escapism. (November 2021). Substance Use and Misuse.
  6. Alcohol's Effects on Health. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. September 2023.
  7. Alcoholism and Family History. University of Rochester Medical Center.
  8. Alcohol Withdrawal. (January 2021). National Library of Science.
  9. Underlying Mechanisms in the Relationships Between Stress and Alcohol Consumption in Regular and Risky Drinkers (MESA): Methods and Designs of a Randomized Laboratory Study. (October 2022). BMC Psychology.
  10. Peer Influence in Adolescent Drinking Behavior: A meta-analysis of Stochastic Actor-Based Modeling Studies. (April 2021). PLOS ONE.
  11. Students Who Limit Their Drinking, as Recommended by National Guidelines, Are Stigmatized, Ostracized, or the Subject of Peer Pressure: Limiting Consumption Is All But Prohibited in a Culture of Intoxication. (August 2018). Substance Abuse: Research and Treatment.
  12. Social Support as a Protective Factor for Alcohol Use Disorders: Results from a Nationally Representative Family History Study. (November 2022). Alcohol and Alcoholism.
  13. An Experimental Study on the Effects of Peer Drinking Norms on Adolescents’ Drinker Prototypes. (January 2014). Addictive Behaviors.
  14. The Genetic Relationship Between Alcohol Consumption and Aspects of Problem Drinking in an Ascertained Sample. (June 2020). Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.
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