Social drinking: are you getting the right balance?

profile picture of Elizabeth Rogers
Associate Clinical Director, Bupa Health Clinics
21 July 2021
Next review due July 2024

With COVID-19 restrictions easing, sporting events making a return, and theatres reopening, many of us are taking the opportunity to reunite with friends and family. As pubs and restaurants open, some of these reunions may also include drinking alcohol.

In this article, I’ll discuss social drinking, and how to enjoy social occasions without over doing it.

woman holding a glass of wine

What is social drinking?

Social drinking is when someone drinks in social situations. This includes events like birthdays, parties, or gatherings with friends and family.

Social drinking takes place in a variety of locations – it could be at a venue, like a pub, restaurant or bar, or at home. Social drinking habits vary between situations and cultures.

There are lots of reasons why people choose to drink at a social occasion, to:

  • relax
  • increase their confidence
  • fit in with the people around them
  • share the drinking experience with others
  • celebrate events, such as weddings or birthdays

Is social drinking safe?

Social drinking often involves drinking a moderate amount of alcohol. If the amount you drink is within safe drinking limits, then it can be safe. But that is not always the case.

When can social drinking go wrong?

Excessive social drinking can follow a pattern of binge drinking. This is where, in a short period of time, you either meet, or drink more, than the weekly recommended number of units of alcohol.

In the UK, up to a quarter of adults (people who are over 18 years old) drink more than the recommended drinking guidelines. Of those who drink alcohol, three in 10 had binge drunk the week before. In the UK, ‘binge drinking’ is having more than eight units for men, or six units for women, in one drinking session.

If you binge drink or regularly drink too much, you might be putting your health at risk. For example, studies have shown that drinking excessively can cause:

  • high blood pressure (also called hypertension)
  • increased risk of heart disease, including strokes 
  • increased risk of liver damage

What are the signs that I might be drinking too much?

In the UK, it is recommended that adults try not to drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week.

This is equivalent to:

  • six pints of four per cent beer
  • six medium (175ml) glasses of wine
  • 14 single spirit shots (25ml)

Some warning signs that you’re drinking too much include:

  • regularly drinking too much alcohol
  • engaging in risky behaviour, or blacking out
  • feeling shame over the amount you drink
  • using alcohol to escape problems, or to self-medicate
  • having frequent hangovers, or not feeling well after drinking
  • not knowing when to stop drinking, or not being able to stop even if you know you should

How can I cut down on the amount of alcohol I drink?

You can introduce some simple changes to cut back on how much alcohol you are drinking. Here are some ideas:

  • introduce three to four alcohol-free days a week
  • use a measuring cup when pouring alcohol drinks
  • use smaller wine glasses
  • swap an alcoholic drink with a non-alcoholic or low alcohol drink

Where can I find support for cutting down on drinking?

If you think that you’re drinking more than you should, speak to your GP. They’ll be able to support you, and direct you to longer-term support services in your local area.

Below is a short list of useful resources that may be helpful for you.

It’s important to get the facts on how alcohol can affect your health. You might find our expert advice and guidance on drinking alcohol helpful.

Are you interested in learning more about your health? Discover more about our range of health assessments.

profile picture of Elizabeth Rogers
Dr Elizabeth Rogers
Associate Clinical Director, Bupa Health Clinics

    • Social Drinking. Alcohol Rehab Help., accessed 27 July 2021
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    • UK Alcohol Guidelines. Drinkaware., accessed on 13 June 2021
    • How to cut down on alcohol at home? Drinkaware., accessed 13 June 2021

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