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Types of drinkers

Reading time: 9 mins
Types of drinkers

The types of drinkers describe the categorizations established based on individuals’ patterns of alcohol consumption and their relationship with alcohol. These categories are often used to better understand and address the diverse behaviors and attitudes people have towards drinking. 

Since the reasons among those who consume alcohol vary, four different types of drinkers have been identified. Each type of drinker has a specific motivation, but average age and gender prevalence may also vary.

Four types of drinkers include those who consume alcohol for enhancement, to conform or fit in, to increase sociability, and to cope. 

The main differences between different types of alcohol drinkers are what drives them to choose to drink alcohol. For example, drinking for enhancement is associated with adventures, aggressiveness, and increasing excitement not necessarily for social purposes. On the flip side, drinking to conform indicates a person chooses to drink in order to fit in. This kind of person doesn’t like alcohol but will drink at a special event just because they don’t want to stand out. 

Social drinking is self-explanatory and refers to cases when people choose to drink to double the fun and increase their sociability. Lastly, drinking to cope refers to cases when people consume alcohol to address mental health problems and decrease symptoms associated with them. This drinking pattern is also prevalent among persons with a history of abuse.

1. Drinking for enhancement

Drinking for enhancement

Drinking for enhancement refers to using alcohol to bring out excitement. In other words, a person drinks alcohol in order to increase the sense of excitement, thrill, and adventure beyond social motives. For someone who drinks for enhancement, alcohol isn’t just a “tool” that makes them more social, it’s about feeling the rush that comes with one drink after another.

Adolescents and young adults are most likely to drink for enhancement. The age range for this type of drinker goes from 15 to 25. 

At this point, there is no official data regarding the exact gender prevalence of drinkers for enhancement. However, this drinking style is more common among extroverted males than females. People that drink for enhancement tend to engage in binge drinking sessions. 

A 2018 report from Wilsnack et al., published in Alcohol Research: Current Reviews shows that the prevalence of drinking patterns among U.S. men is 33% and 17% for women. In England, gender differences in this drinking pattern among men and women are 35% and 27% respectively. In China, 32% of binge drinkers are males as opposed to 4% of females.

People who are extroverted, impulsive, and aggressive tend to drink for enhancement. These adolescents and young adults are prone to edgy and risky behaviors primarily because their main intention is to seek a thrill. For that reason, people who drink for enhancement may also drive recklessly, break the law, and engage in other risky actions.

2. Drinking to conform

Drinking to conform

Drinking to conform means a person consumes alcohol for the sole purpose of fitting in. Alcohol isn’t a preferable choice for a person who drinks to conform. This person chooses to drink alcohol only to fit in and avoid standing out. In most cases, this type of drinker consumes alcohol on social occasions (but it’s not the same as social drinking).

Conforming drinkers are usually adults who drink moderately. They are usually 35 years of age or older. Men are more likely to drink to conform. As mentioned above, there are no official statistics about the prevalence of drinking to conform among genders. However, figures show that men tend to drink more frequently. In one survey, 34% of women reported consuming 12 standard drinks as opposed to 56% of men.

Compared to other drinkers, individuals who consume alcohol to conform tend to drink less. For example, they may hold a glass of wine at some event to avoid standing out. Or they may sip champagne from time to time, but they don’t enjoy it. Additionally, some conforming drinkers may choose to drink in order to please a specific social group they want to impress or because they consider it cool.

3. Social drinking

social drinking

Social drinking is a popular drinking pattern where people consume alcohol to celebrate, have fun, and enhance their sociability. Drinking is a social pastime in many cultures. For some people, it’s impossible to have fun with friends or at a wedding and other special events without alcohol. This type of person is an occasional drinker. However, this doesn’t mean they engage in alcohol binge drinking sessions. Many social drinkers consume alcohol moderately. 

Most social drinkers are young adults i.e. persons 18 to 25 years of age. Men are more likely to drink to enhance their sociability than women. Furthermore, according to a fact sheet on excessive alcohol use and its risks to men’s health from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the recent 30 days, nearly 58% of adult men reported drinking, compared to 49% of females.  

However, a 2021 article written by Aneri Pattani for KFF Health News also states that while men are consistently more likely to drink alcohol for various reasons, the gender gap in alcohol intake keeps closing. 

While casual drinker tends to drink moderately, this drinking pattern isn’t necessarily good for an individual. This approach to drinking normalizes alcohol intake and assigns it an important role in a person’s social life. With time, this can lead to riskier drinking behaviors.

4. Drinking to cope

drinking to cope

Drinking to cope means a person chooses to consume alcohol in order to forget about their worries. This type of drinker uses alcohol as a “tool” to reduce negative emotions and feelings including stress, anxiety, depression, and others. 

Coping drinkers are usually adults, meaning they’re 25 years of age or older. On the aspect of gender, anxiety and depression seem to be on the rise among adolescents, particularly among females, according to a 2020 study by Aaron M. White published in Alcohol Research: Current Reviews. Furthermore, it appears that females are more likely to resort to drinking as a coping mechanism than males. 

While some people drink to cope, this pattern of alcohol use can be quite dangerous. In fact, drinking to cope is associated with a higher risk of developing alcohol use disorder than drinking for pleasure. 

The reason women tend to drink to cope is that they are also more likely to experience childhood trauma including sexual assault than men. This could be a reason behind increasing alcohol use.

Emotional drinkers tend to consume alcohol more heavily. As a result, they are more prone to alcohol-related problems than drinkers with other types of drinking. 

Even though having a few drinks to numb stress, anxiety, and memories of trauma may seem like a good idea, long-term consequences can be disastrous. Alcohol doesn’t solve the underlying problems. For that reason, it is of huge importance for coping drinkers to work actively on treating the underlying mental health condition, trauma, or other problem they want to forget while drinking alcohol.

How were drinkers classified by professionals?

professional drinkers

Professionals classify drinkers as moderate, heavy, and binge drinkers. Alcoholics are classified into a young adult subtype, young antisocial subtype, functional alcoholics, intermediate familial subtype, and chronic severe alcoholics.

Why different classifications? The answer is simple, drinkers and alcoholics aren’t essentially the same. The main point of difference between alcoholic vs. drinkers is that the latter are not physically addicted to alcohol. 

They use alcohol in a way that can negatively affect their health and life but don’t have a compulsive need to drink. On the flip side, alcoholics are physically dependent on alcohol and may experience cravings and withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking. 

According to a 2022 article titled, “Dietary Guidelines for Alcohol” from the CDC, moderate drinkers are adult men who limit intake to two drinks or less in a day and adult women who take one drink or less per day.

On the other hand, heavy drinkers are males who consume at least 15 drinks a week and women who take a minimum of eight drinks on a weekly basis. Binge drinkers are men whose alcohol intake is at least five drinks per single occasion and women who take a minimum of four drinks per occasion. 

When it comes to alcoholics, the young adult subtype is the most common and it includes people with an average age of 25 who started drinking at an early age and also developed alcoholism early. Young adult alcoholics usually binge drink. Young antisocial alcoholics also start drinking at an early age, but also have a high risk of developing mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and others.

Functional alcoholics are adults who maintain personal and professional life, despite their alcohol use disorder. These persons are reluctant to admit they have a problem because they can still function and maintain their responsibilities. The intermediate familial subtype also refers to adults who are usually married and at a high risk of mental illness.

Chronic severe alcoholics are the rarest, but most dangerous type of alcoholics. They start drinking early and develop a dependence on alcohol by 29 years of age. Not only are they most likely to have a mental illness, but have more alcohol-drinking days per year than any other group.Many heavy drinkers don’t see themselves as alcoholics, according to a 2014 article written by Patrick J. Skerrett for Harvard Health Publishing. Indeed, drinkers aren’t necessarily alcoholics, but they are at a higher risk of developing alcohol use disorder, evidence confirms.

usual alcohol drinkers

Who are the usual alcohol drinkers?

Usual alcohol drinkers are young adult males of higher socioeconomic status, but who are also single or dating multiple people. Many alcohol drinkers are also adults with mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.

Alcohol use is especially prevalent in young adults aged from 21 to 25 years. In fact, around 62% of people from this age group are current alcohol drinkers. This is the highest rate of all groups, Statista reports through its data on current, binge, and heavy alcohol use in the United States in 2021, by age group. 

A 2016 study by Susan E. Collins published in Alcohol Research: Current Reviews shows that higher socioeconomic status (SES) persons and those who reside in higher SES areas have greater alcohol consumption rates. At the same time, people with higher SES are less likely to suffer from alcohol-related consequences than their counterparts with lower socioeconomic status. 

Finally, according to a study by Salvatore et al., published in the July 2014 issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, being single is linked to heavier and more frequent alcohol consumption, in contrast to romantic partnerships, which decrease alcohol consumption. It is worth noting that those who have an unstable relationship status, meaning they date several partners, tend to drink more than those who are single.

What is the common reason why people choose to drink?

reason why people choose to drink

The most common reason people choose to drink is to have fun and enhance sociability.  However, the most common reason people start drinking alcohol is peer pressure at a young age or exposure to alcohol in the household. 

Alcohol intake changes as people age. Some people decrease alcohol consumption as they age, whereas others increase it. A study from PLoS One found the most common reasons for increasing alcohol intake with age are more social occasions and fewer responsibilities. While most people reported drinking to have fun or for celebration and social reasons, other subjects claimed the reason they increased alcohol intake is for medicinal purposes. Interestingly, medicinal purposes of alcohol weren’t among offered options for increased alcohol consumption.

When it comes to reasons people choose to drink alcohol, past positive experiences also play a role. Past experiences with alcohol may shape people’s expectations. So, a person may recall how alcohol generated positive emotions, feelings, or experiences in the past. As a result, their motivation to drink alcohol goes up. 

Drinking alcohol has become a social norm. Alcohol use is even encouraged in society today. Many people drink because they are exposed to alcohol due to their social circle of family dynamics. 

Other reasons for alcohol drinking include stress relief, easy access to alcoholic beverages, to numb pain, and also to cope with mental health problems and their symptoms.

Who can drink alcohol

Who can drink alcohol?

People who are 21 years or older can drink alcohol, according to the Minimum Legal Drinking Age (MLDA) laws. Before the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 was enacted, the legal drinking age varied from one state to another, a 2022 article titled, “Age 21 Minimum Legal Drinking Age” from the CDC explains. 

Generally speaking, there is no safe amount of alcohol a person can drink. Health organizations don’t encourage or advise people to drink alcohol. However, moderate drinking is a safer option for adults who choose to consume alcoholic beverages. 

Drinking in moderation means limiting intake to two drinks a day (for men) or one drink a day (for women) on days when alcohol is consumed. It’s generally not recommended for people who don’t drink alcohol to start doing so for any reason.

Although drinking alcohol is not encouraged, it is safer for certain individuals. These include persons who aren’t pregnant (or trying to conceive) and healthy men and women who don’t have a medical condition or take medications to manage a health problem. 

On the other hand, people who are younger than 12, pregnant, have medical conditions, take medications, are at high risk, or recovering from alcohol use disorder should avoid alcohol at all costs.

What are the risks of drinking alcohol?

risks of drinking alcohol

The risks of drinking alcohol can be short- and long-term. Short-term risks include injuries and accidents whereas long-term risks include damage to the internal organs, a higher risk of various health conditions including cancer, and increased mortality.  

First, it’s important to clarify alcohol may have some advantages. A 2021 article titled, “Alcohol use: Weighing risks and benefits” from Mayo Clinic reports moderate consumption of alcohol can reduce the risk of heart diseases and events such as ischemic stroke. Also, moderate alcohol intake could decrease the risk of diabetes. Some people tend to experience pleasant emotions when drinking alcohol. However, the potential benefits of alcohol drinking are small and do not apply to all individuals. 

The disadvantages of drinking alcohol are a lot more numerous, especially with excessive or chronic and heavy consumption. As mentioned above, the risks and negative effects of drinking alcohol can be short-term and long-term. Short-term risks are injuries, violent behaviors, risky sexual behaviors, alcohol poisoning, miscarriage, and stillbirth.

On the other hand, long-term risks of drinking alcohol include hypertension and a high risk of developing heart disease, stroke, digestive problems (heartburn and nausea), and liver disease. For instance, alcohol kills liver cells and causes cirrhosis or scarring. Long-term alcohol use can lead to alcoholic fatty liver disease.

People who drink alcohol are also more likely to skip meals, which can lead to anemia. Consequently, this leads to the development of inflammation, ulcers, and other issues.

At the same time, heavy and chronic alcohol consumption increases the risk of cancer of the mouth, breast, esophagus, throat, liver, voice box, rectum, and colon. It’s also important to mention alcohol intake can wreak havoc on hormone profiles and give a boost to problems associated with hormonal imbalances. 

Drinking alcohol weakens the immune system, thus putting a person at a higher risk of getting sick. Alcohol affects the brain too and may lead to problems with memory, decision-making, problem-solving, focus and concentration, attention, and performance. Plus, alcohol increases the risk of dementia and mental health problems including depression.Heavy and chronic habitual drinking can cause relationship problems, work- and school-related problems, and also lead to dependence and addiction. Still, one lessens their chances of experiencing both short- and long-term alcohol-related dangers by cutting back or giving up alcohol altogether.