Alcohol is a depressant, we know this. Alcohol lowers the immune system and causes other physical, emotional, and social consequences. So why do people drink alcohol anyway? Well, the reality is that millions of people in America drink alcohol at least occasionally and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, it is important to understand why we drink and why we may continue to drink despite the negative consequences of drinking and the benefits of giving up alcohol.
Reasons why a person may drink include:
- To get drunk
- To be more social
- To escape a problem
- To manage stress
- An increase in power
- For fun (enjoyment)
- As a part of a ritual
One study by Antonia Abbey et al., examines 2 types of motives for alcohol consumption (Abbey, 1993). The motives include what the study refers to as “personal-effect motives” and “social-effect motives”. This study examines them because most research completed has focused on these 2 broad categories. Luckily, it does provide some interesting insight as to why may people drink.
Drink for personal reasons (or personal-effect motives) is one reason why people drink. This is an overarching category that includes drinking to cope with, escape, avoid, or control negative emotions. Drinking for these reasons is a form of negative reinforcement. Examples of personal-effect motives for drinking include:
- Drinking to cope with a divorce or break-up
- Drinking to suppress feelings of depression, loneliness, or inadequacy
This motive has been labeled drinking to cope and is usually defined as the tendency to use alcohol to escape, avoid, or regulate unpleasant emotions.
Drinking for social reasons, or to “be social” is referred to as social-effect motives. This includes drinking for special events and special occasions, at social gatherings, or having a friendly drink with a buddy. Drinking for these types of reasons is a form of positive reinforcement. Examples of social-effect motives include:
- Drinking at a wedding
- Drinking with friends during a lady’s or men’s night out
- Having a friend over for a few drinks
- Drinking at a barbeque
- Drinking to celebrate a life event such as an engagement
How the Pandemic is Effecting Why People Drink
Abbey’s study goes on to explain that although drinking for social reasons is more common in general, those who drink for personal reasons are more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder, also knowns as alcoholism. However, we predict that the recent pandemic will affect these observations greatly.
The ability to be social has been severely limited. Many people are only leaving their homes for essential activities. Additionally, those who are more willing to engage in social activities are still limited by new regulations that prevent larger legal gatherings. A full bar, concert, or large wedding is essentially unheard of in today’s climate. With this being our reality, one could deduce that the rates of social drinking have declined dramatically.
On the other hand, David Dobbs wrote in the Pacific Magazine “Isolation is the best established, most robust social or psychological risk factor for disease out there. Nothing can compete.” (Dobbs, 2013) With months of heightened incidences of isolation across the country, the prevalence of negative thoughts and mental health concerns arise. Does this mean that rates of personal-effect motivated drinking will also be on the rise? If this is the case then based on what we know, we can expect that rates of alcohol addiction will also likely increase.