Drinking alone is closely linked to problems with alcohol and the development of alcohol use disorder (AUD).
While not everyone who drinks alone has a problem, it is definitely a habit that can lead to issues. If you do drink alone, pay careful attention to why you’re drinking and try to set a hard, healthy limit on how much you’ll drink.
Drinking Alone & Alcoholism
Drinking alone has been shown to foreshadow problems with alcohol, with solitary drinkers often drinking for different reasons than social drinkers and being at significantly higher risk of developing AUD, historically called alcohol addiction or alcoholism.
This study was fairly extensive, following 4,500 adolescents from 18 to 35 years old. It found that the likelihood of developing AUD was over a third higher for adolescents and 60% higher for young adults who engaged in solitary drinking.
Signs & Symptoms of a Drinking Problem
Broadly, a person has a drinking problem if any aspect of their drinking has a negative impact on their life, but they continue to drink in spite of those negative consequences.
More specifically, a person may have a diagnosable problem with alcohol like AUD if they show the following signs and symptoms:
- Have at some point in the past year drank more or for longer than intended
- Have tried to cut down or stop drinking but couldn’t
- Sometimes think so much about drinking that you cannot think of other things
- Drinking, or being sick from drinking, has interfered with important duties, such as taking care of your family or going to work
- Continued drinking despite it clearly causing issues with friends, family, and other loved ones
- Given up or changed enjoyable habits in order to drink more
- Gotten into dangerous situations, such as driving or engaging in risky sex while drinking
- Continue drinking even if causes depression, anxiety, or memory blackouts
People who drink too much also tend to have a higher alcohol tolerance. This means that they will need to drink more alcohol over time to achieve the same effect.
They may also often develop alcohol dependence, meaning they experience physical withdrawal symptoms if they stop drinking. In withdrawal, symptoms such as these develop:
- Trouble sleeping
- Fast heartbeat
- General feeling of uneasiness or unhappiness
- General feeling of being unwell
Why Someone Might Drink Alone
There are a few reasons someone might drink alone, including:
Some people drink in an attempt to suppress negative feelings or memories, such as drinking to feel less anxious or stressed. This seems to be the primary cited reason why adolescents and young adults report drinking alone.
Dependence or Addiction
If a person has grown physically dependent on alcohol, they may need to drink throughout the day in order to keep withdrawal symptoms at bay. For these individuals, drinking alone can become part of how they fill their alcohol cravings and avoid withdrawal.
Alcohol is a recreational drug, and some people may choose to use it alone without feeling any particularly strong negative emotions. People may drink alone in the house when they are watching TV or doing other activities, even when they are not actively socializing.
What Are the Dangers of Drinking Alone?
There are several dangers to drinking alone that one should understand before engaging in this type of drinking.
First, nobody is around to help monitor your intake or cut off your drinking if you become overly intoxicated. This can lead to overdose and even death.
Second, getting in the habit of drinking alone can result in development of physiologic dependence and even the development of an alcohol use disorder.
Third, once an alcohol use disorder sets in, drinking alone can lead to people being unable to attend to their daily responsibilities, complete tasks, show up and perform at work, take care of children or dependents, etc. This can start to cause all sorts of impairments in your daily life.
What Support Options Can Help?
If you regularly drink alone, it may be an early sign of an alcohol use disorder. Seeking professional help can be life saving. There are both pharmacologic (medications) and behavioral treatments for individuals with AUD.
If you don’t know where to begin, start with SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). This free, confidential government line is designed to help people connect with addiction and mental health treatment resources relevant to them. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations.
One of the most popular support groups for people who struggle with alcohol use is Alcoholics Anonymous, or AA. AA meetings are free and widely available.
At the same time, there are some caveats. AA has a religious focus, with several calls for help from a higher power, and not all of their methodology is evidence-based. Still, many people have found solace and support in this organization.
If you want to try something different than AA or other 12-step programs, there are many other programs available, such as smart recovery, which does not have a religious affiliation and may be more suited for people who do not consider themselves religious.
The SAMHSA helpline mentioned above can help you learn more about what’s available in your area. If you enroll in addiction treatment, your care team can help you locate local support groups that will work well for your needs.
Drinking Alone FAQs
Is it okay to drink alone?
This question doesn’t have an easy answer because each person’s situation is different. Importantly, consider why you’re drinking alone, how often you do it, and how heavily you drink when drinking alone. If you regularly drink heavily while alone, it can be a sign of a problem, and it is worth discussing with family/friends or even a medical professional.
What does it mean when you drink alone?
Drinking alone can mean many different things, and only the individual drinking can really know why and to what extent they’re doing it. Many adolescents and young adults who drink alone do it to suppress negative feelings. If this sounds like you, there are healthier outlets for those feelings. While alcohol can provide a temporary short-term fix, it has significant potential to make life harder in the long term with heavy, repeated use.
How common is drinking alone?
One study found about 25% of adolescents and 40% of young adults reported drinking alone. It’s a topic worth exploring more thoroughly because drinking alone is a significant risk factor for AUD. We still don’t have a huge pool of data on the subject, so research is ongoing.
Medically Reviewed By: Elena Hill, MD, MPH
- Drinking Alone Foreshadows Future Alcohol Problems. Carnegie Mellon University. https://www.cmu.edu/news/stories/archives/2022/july/drinking-study.html. July 2022. Accessed November 2022.
- What Are the Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)? National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. https://www.rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/How-much-is-too-much/whats-the-harm/what-Are-Symptoms-Of-alcohol-Use-Disorder.aspx. Accessed November 2022.
- When Drinking Alone Becomes A Problem. Carnegie Mellon University. https://www.cmu.edu/dietrich/psychology/news/2021/creswell-aud.html. March 2021. Accessed November 2022.
- Drinking Together and Drinking Alone: A Social-Contextual Framework for Examining Risk of Alcohol Use Disorder. Current Directions in Psychological Science. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8920309/. December 2020. Accessed November 2022.
- SAMHSA’s National Helpline. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline. Accessed November 2022.
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