Social and Cultural Aspects of Drinking

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Social and Cultural Aspects of Drinking

Key findings

One of the problems facing those concerned with the development of policies and legislation on alcohol issues is the sheer volume of research and publications on this subject. In addition, these works span a variety of disciplines, and are often couched in academic jargon which may be incomprehensible to non-specialists.

In this section, we therefore provide a brief, bullet-point summary of the key findings and significant generalisations that can be drawn from our survey of the literature on social and cultural aspects of alcohol. Subsequent sections provide more detailed examination of some of these findings, but the generalisations presented in this summary can be regarded as relatively uncontroversial ‘sociocultural facts’ about drinking, many of which have been consistent features of similar literature-reviews and summaries for over a decade (Douglas, 1987; Pittman and White, 1991; Heath, 1998).


Behavioural effects

Alcohol-related problems

Rules and regulation

   1. Proscription of solitary drinking

   2.Prescription of sociability

   3. Social control of consumption and behaviour

   4. Restrictions on female and ‘underage’ drinking.

Symbolic functions

cross-cultural research reveals four main symbolic uses of alcoholic beverages:

   1. As labels defining the nature of social situations or events

   2. As indicators of social status

   3. As statements of affiliation

   4. As gender differentiators.


   1. In all cultures, the drinking-place is a special environment, a separate social world with its own customs and values

   2. Drinking-places tend to be socially integrative, egalitarian environments

   3. The primary function of drinking-places is the facilitation of social bonding.

Transitional rituals

Festive rituals

European research