Is Social Drinking Really Harmless?

Alcohol is the most socially acceptable substance use that takes place in society worldwide. Beers at a sporting event, wine pairings with dinner, and cocktails amongst friends are all activities that take place without a second thought. Advertisements on television, in magazines, on websites, and at live events consistently reinforce the idea that drinking is just something that we all do and that it should be embraced without question.

Most people don’t even think about stopping their alcohol consumption unless an obvious problem arises. After all, having a drink after work or to relieve stress isn’t frowned upon, and in America, many define their college experience as a young adult around the alcohol that is present in almost every social situation. But a new study at the University of Oxford study has shown that drinking any amount of alcohol can be dangerous since it causes damage to the brain.

What Science Says About The Impact of Alcohol on the Brain

This observational study conducted by researchers from the University of Oxford, illustrates the impact of alcohol consumption on the human brain utilizing brain scans of individuals viewed in relation to their alcohol use. One of the study’s more shocking conclusions was that any level of alcohol consumption had an effect on the brain’s gray matter. The gray matter makes up the regions in the human brain where information is processed. The study further concluded there was a proportional correlation between the amount of alcohol a person consumed and the loss of this critical gray matter in the brain.

Put simply, the more alcohol consumed, the less volume of gray matter was present in their brain. Having a lower volume of gray matter can directly impact processing and memory. As a person ages, their brain volume naturally reduces, so the presence of alcohol makes the situation worse. Additionally, of all the modifiable risk factors that could impact an individual’s gray matter in their brain, alcohol was the greatest contributor. Modifiable risk factors are factors that a person can do something about, meaning they have control over how much the risk factor could impact them, their brain, and their overall health.

What we know about alcohol consumption and the brain:

  • The brain’s ‘gray matter’ is where information is processed and thinking occurs.
  • Any amount of alcohol consumption will diminish the brain’s critical gray matter.
  • Damage to the brain’s gray matter is proportional to the amount of alcohol consumed.
  • Stopping alcohol consumption eliminates the greatest modifiable risk factor to gray matter.

Further Findings in University of Oxford Study on the Brain and Alcohol

A second, important fact discovered by this new study is that the type of alcohol you drink doesn’t matter. Beer, wine, or hard liquor all impacted the human brain similarly. Certain drinking patterns also had little effect on the negative consequences of alcohol intake, meaning no matter the individual’s drinking pattern the study found the gray matter in that individual’s brain was negatively impacted. Overall, the study found that there was no “safe” level of drinking. In layman’s terms, drinking any amount of alcohol was worse for the individual than not drinking any alcohol at all.

This is not the first such study to determine that alcohol is unsafe for a person’s overall health. Alcohol is the psychoactive drug contained in beer, wine and all other forms of liquor and hard drinks. Alcohol is also, arguably, the most socially acceptable recreational drug. However, alcohol is also the leading risk factor for disease and premature death in both men and women between the ages of 15 and 49 worldwide. The findings of this study and countless others make a pretty convincing case for total abstinence from alcohol consumption if you ask us.

Reconsidering Social Drinking and Casual Alcohol Consumption

It may be overly optimistic or even naïve to think that studies such as this will have much of an impact in the way that Americans consume alcohol. That said, it is important to point out the dangers of alcohol, especially with the rise in alcohol consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic spike in drinking has contributed to an overall rise in alcohol misuse and alcohol use disorder that is seemingly impacting more and more Americans. Society may continue to view social alcohol consumption as harmless and part of everyday life, but more and more people are finding themselves having problems with alcohol.

An ever increasing number of Americans are meeting criteria for alcohol use disorder, and during the coronavirus pandemic, many Americans who considered themselves as never having trouble with alcohol, are seeking help as their drinking has become out of control. Even for those individuals who may not suffer from alcohol use disorder and have not experienced serious consequences due to drinking, it is important to point out that even “safe” drinking is a myth. The fact is that every alcoholic drink is having some negative impact on the health of their brain and their body. It’s time to put sobriety on the table as an option for everyone, not just those with a serious enough alcohol use disorder to warrant treatment.

Help for Alcohol Addiction at Maryland Addiction Recovery Center

If you or someone you know needs help for alcohol addiction, co-occurring disorders or any substance use disorder, please give us a call. Maryland Addiction Recovery Center offers the most comprehensive dual diagnosis addiction treatment in the Mid-Atlantic area. If we aren’t the best fit for you or your loved one, we will take time to work with you to find a treatment center or provider that better fits your needs.

Please give us a call at (866) 517-1019 or email our team at For more information on all of our drug addiction, alcohol addiction and co-occurring disorder services and recovery resources, please visit our web site at