Drinking culture

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Merry Drinker (c. 1628–1630) by Frans Hals

Drinking culture is the set of traditions and social behaviours that surround the consumption of alcoholic beverages as a recreational drug and social lubricant. Although alcoholic beverages and social attitudes toward drinking vary around the world, nearly every civilization has independently discovered the processes of brewing beer, fermenting wine and distilling spirits.[1]

Alcohol, a psychoactive substance with addictive properties and other effects have been present in societies over centuries and throughout history.[2] Drinking is documented in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles,[3] in the Qur'an, in art history, in Greek and Roman literature as old as Homer and in Confucius's Analects.

Historical perspectives[edit]

Alcohol has played a significant role in human history. The production and consumption of alcoholic beverages date back to ancient civilizations. Since Neolithic times, societies and cultures around the world have made use of intoxicating substances, with alcohol as the most popular, featured in temple rituals for ~2,000 years.[4] In Mesopotamia, the world's oldest known recipe for beer-making can be traced back to 3200 BC, with related pictographs dated to 4000 BS.[4] Similarly, wine has ancient roots, with evidence of production in Jemdet Nasr in 3000 BC,[4] Georgia from around 6000 BC and in Iran from 5000 BC.[5] [6] These practices were not just culinary but often held religious and medicinal significance.

Drinking styles[edit]

Binge drinking[edit]

Binge drinking is defined as drinking to excess.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking alcohol that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or above. For the typical adult, this pattern corresponds to consuming five or more drinks (men), or four or more drinks (women) in about two hours.[7] As tolerance builds, the person will need more drinks to achieve the same effect or feeling.[8] The excessive drinking can lead to alcoholism, a term describing the inability to control the intake of alcohol.[9]

The concept of a "binge" has been somewhat elastic over the years, implying consumption of alcohol far beyond that which is socially acceptable. In earlier decades, "going on a binge" meant drinking over the course of several days until one was no longer able to continue drinking. This usage is known to have entered the English language as late as 1854; it derives from an English dialectal word meaning to "soak" or to "fill a boat with water". (OED, American Heritage Dictionary)

Drinking games[edit]

Speed drinking[edit]

Steven Petrosino achieving the Guinness World Record for speed drinking in June 1977 at the Gingerbreadman Pub in Carlisle, Pennsylvania

Speed drinking or competitive drinking is the drinking of a small or moderate quantity of beer in the shortest period of time, without an intention of getting heavily intoxicated. Unlike binge drinking, its focus is on competition or the establishment of a record. Speed drinkers typically drink a light beer, such as lager, and they allow it to warm and lose its carbonation to shorten the drinking time.

Guinness World Records (1990 edition, p. 464) listed several records for speed drinking. Among these were:

Neither of these records had been defeated when Guinness World Records banned all alcohol-related records from their book in 1991.[citation needed]

Former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke held a record for the fastest consumption of a yard of ale. In 1954, while he was a student at Oxford University, he drank 2+12 imperial pints (1.4 litres) in 12 seconds.[11]

Social drinking[edit]

Social drinking, commonly used as a synonym for responsible drinking or moderate drinking, refers to casual drinking of alcoholic beverages in a social setting without an intent to become intoxicated. A social drinker is also defined as a person who only drinks alcohol during social events, such as parties, and does not drink while alone (e.g., at home).[12]

In many cultures, good news is often celebrated by a group sharing alcoholic drinks. For example, sparkling wine may be used to toast the bride at a wedding, and alcoholic drinks may be served celebrate a baby's birth. Buying someone an alcoholic drink is often considered a gesture of goodwill. It may be an expression of gratitude, or it may mark the resolution of a dispute.

Drinking etiquette[edit]

Reunion of gentlemen around a table in an interior, by Jacob van Schuppen

For the purposes of buying rounds of alcoholic drinks in English public houses, William Greaves, a retired London journalist, devised a set of etiquette guidelines as a Saturday morning essay in the defunct Today newspaper. Known as Greaves' Rules, the guidelines were based upon his long experience of pubs and rounds.[13] The rules were later recommissioned by The Daily Telegraph and published in that newspaper on November 20, 1993. Copies of the rules soon appeared in many pubs throughout the United Kingdom.

Kate Fox, a social anthropologist, came up with a similar idea in her book Watching the English, but concluded their rationale was the need to minimize the possibility of violence between drinking companions.[14]

When it is socially acceptable to drink differs around the world. For example, drinking at early times of the day is frowned upon in some countries, including Britain, Iceland, and the Czech Republic, whose drinkers limit themselves to the evening, some don't start until past midnight and stay out especially late.[15]

Though noon is often seen as earliest appropriate time of day to consume alcohol, especially on its own, there are some exceptions such as drinking Buck's Fizzes on Christmas Day morning.[16] In Germany, it is tradition to get a drink on Sunday morning, Frühschoppen, to commemorate when families would go to the pub after church. In the countries of Spain, France, Russia, and Germany, day drinking is more common.[15] Drinks served with breakfast or brunch, like a mimosa or bloody mary, are common in many cultures.[17] However, even in countries where day drinking is socially acceptable, it is restricted compared to the heavier periods of drinking recurrent during weekend days.[15]

Session drinking[edit]

Session drinking is a chiefly British and Irish term that refers to drinking a large quantity of beer during a "session" (i.e. a specific period of time) without becoming too heavily intoxicated.[18] A session is generally a social occasion.

A "session beer", such as a session bitter, is a beer that has a moderate or relatively low alcohol content.

Pub crawl[edit]

A pub crawl (sometimes called a bar tour, bar crawl or bar-hopping) is the act of visiting multiple pubs or bars in a single session.[19]

Vertical drinking[edit]

Vertical drinking means that all or most of the patrons in an establishment are standing while drinking. This is linked to faster rates of consumption, and can lead to tension and possibly violence as patrons attempt to maneuver around each other.[20]

Social and cultural significance[edit]

Drinking customs vary significantly across cultures. In many Western societies, raising a toast during celebrations or milestones is a common practice. In contrast, in Japanese culture, the practice of 'nomikai' – a drinking party among colleagues or friends – is prevalent, reflecting their communal approach to drinking.[21] Similarly, in some Native American societies, alcohol consumption has historically been limited and regulated through community norms. [22]

Sober curious[edit]

Sober curious is a cultural movement and lifestyle of practicing none or limited alcohol consumption that started spreading in the late 2010s.

Sober curiosity is often defined as having the option to question or change one's drinking habits, for mental or physical health reasons.[23] It may be practised in many ways, ranging from complete abstinence to thinking more about when and how much one actually wants to drink.[24]

Spiritual use[edit]

Most religions prohibit or advise against alcohol use. However, spiritual use of alcohol is found in some religions and schools with esoteric influences, including the Sufi Bektashi Order and Alevi Jem ceremonies,[25] in the Japanese religion Shinto,[26] by the new religious movement Thelema, in Vajrayana Buddhism, and in Vodou faith of Haiti.

Health perspectives[edit]

While moderate alcohol consumption is often cited for potential health benefits, such as reduced risk of heart disease, excessive drinking is linked to numerous health risks including liver disease, cardiovascular problems, and addiction.[27] The World Health Organization categorizes alcohol as a Group 1 carcinogen,[28] indicating its causal link to cancer. It is crucial to balance these perspectives to understand the full impact of alcohol on health.

Policy makers have often expressed concern over "drinking culture" due to negative health affects of excess alcohol consumption. Policy makers often focus especially on patterns of problem drinking. These patterns are often expressed in geographical terms, such as in national drinking habits.[5]

Geographic disparity[edit]

Understanding drinking in young people should be done through a "developmental" framework.[29] This would be referred to as a "whole system" approach to underage drinking, as it takes into account a particular adolescent's unique risk and protective factors—from genetics and personality characteristics to social and environmental factors.

As early as the eighth century, Saint Boniface was writing to Cuthbert, Archbishop of Canterbury, to report how "In your diocese, the vice of drunkenness is too frequent. This is an evil peculiar to pagans and to our race. Neither the Franks nor the Gauls nor the Lombards nor the Romans nor the Greeks commit it".[30] It is probable, however, that "the vice of drunkenness" was present in all European nations. The 16th-century Frenchman Rabelais wrote comedic and absurd satires illustrating his countrymen's drinking habits, and Saint Augustin used the example of a drunkard in Rome to illustrate certain spiritual principles.

Some cultures may have a higher tolerance for alcohol consumption, while others may stigmatize it. Cultural practices, traditions, and expectations regarding masculinity can influence drinking patterns among people. [31]

Drinking habits vary significantly across the globe. In many European countries, wine and beer are integral to the dining experience, reflecting a culture of moderate, meal-centric drinking.[32] Conversely, in countries like Russia, higher rates of hard liquor consumption are observed, which has been linked to social and health issues. Furthermore, some Islamic countries have religious prohibitions against alcohol, leading to markedly different drinking practices.[33]

Some studies have noted traditional, cultural differences between Northern and Southern Europe. A difference in perception may also account to some extent for historically noted cultural differences: Northern Europeans drink beer, which in the past was often of a low alcohol content (2.5% compared to today's 5%).[dubious ] In pre-industrial society, beer was safer to drink than water[dubious ], because it had been boiled and contained alcohol. Southern Europeans drink wine and fortified wines (10–20% alcohol by volume). Traditionally, wine was watered and honeyed; drinking full strength wine was considered barbaric in Republican Rome. Nor does binge drinking necessarily equate with substantially higher national averages of per capita/per annum litres of pure alcohol consumption. There is also a physical aspect to national differences worldwide, which has not yet been thoroughly studied, whereby some ethnic groups have a greater capacity for alcohol metabolization through the liver enzymes alcohol dehydrogenase and acetaldehyde dehydrogenase.[citation needed]

These varying capacities do not, however, avoid all health risks inherent in heavy alcohol consumption. Alcohol abuse is associated with a variety of negative health and safety outcomes. This is true no matter the individual's or the ethnic group's perceived ability to "handle alcohol". Persons who believe themselves immune to the effects of alcohol may often be the most at risk for health concerns and the most dangerous of all operating a vehicle.[citation needed]

"Chronic heavy drinkers display functional tolerance when they show few obvious signs of intoxication, even at high blood alcohol concentrations which in others would be incapacitating or even fatal. Because the drinker does not experience significant behavioral impairment as a result of drinking, tolerance may facilitate the consumption of increasing amounts of alcohol. This can result in physical dependence and alcohol-related organ damage."[34]

By country[edit]


Finland has one of the most significant drinking cultures in Europe, with the second highest rate of alcohol consumption in the Nordic countries.[35] Since the early 1960s, the total consumption of alcohol has quadrupled[36] and negative effects of alcohol have increased.[37] Intoxication is not seen as shameful, and is instead praised and seen as a sign of sociality.[38][39]

One major aspect of modern Finnish alcohol culture is the concept of "Pantsdrunk" (kalsarikännit), referring to a drinking practice in which the drinker consumes drinks at home dressed in very little clothing, usually underwear, with no intention of going out.


Drinking culture is very prevalent in Germany, particularly with beer. As of 2013, Germans drink 28 gallons of beer per capita each year.[40] Alcoholism is also an issue, with one-fifth of the population being labeled as "hazardous drinkers" in a 2022 study.[41]

Islamic world[edit]

Alcoholic drinks are generally prohibited under Islamic thought,[42] with the Quran including several verses that admonish the consumption of khamr, an Arabic term meaning intoxicants that is interpreted to include most forms of alcohol and psychoactive drugs.

Islamic countries have low rates of alcohol consumption, and it is completely banned in several of them while strictly controlled in others (such as consumption being allowed only in private places or by non-Muslims). However, a minority of Muslims do drink and believe consuming alcohol is not Qur'anically forbidden,[43][44] such as the Alevi Muslims of Turkey.[45] Muslim-majority countries produce a variety of regional distilled beverages such as arrack and rakı. There is a long tradition of viticulture in the Middle East, particularly in Egypt (where it is legal) and in Iran (where it is banned).


Korea's interest in creating its own alcohol came about during the Koryo Dynasty (946–943), when exposure to foreign cultures and the introduction of distilled water created the basis and technique for distilling a unique alcohol.[46]

Alcohol drinking in Korea helps create and form ties between family members and friends. Drinking is very present throughout traditional family rituals such as honoring ancestors. Aside from traditional holiday and family ritual drinking, alcohol consumption has modernized and become a major aspect of everyday socialization in Korean culture.


Alcohol consumption in Russia remains among the highest in the world. High volumes of alcohol consumption have serious negative effects on Russia's social fabric and bring political, economic and public health ramifications. Alcoholism has been a problem throughout the country's history because drinking is a pervasive, socially acceptable behavior in Russian society and alcohol has also been a major source of government revenue for centuries.

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]

  • "Pub Etiquette". www.sunriseag.net. Retrieved 22 May 2011. (Greaves' Rules)