James Joyner reacts to a list of putative signs of problem drinking that includes a question about drinking alone:
I often drink alone because I’m often alone. Or, at least, don’t have other adults around. I like to drink. I like to be alone. So, quite often, I do them simultaneously.
When my colleagues and I wrote the Treatment of Drinking Problems we did not include drinking alone as a sign of having an alcohol problem. The folklore holds that drinking alone betokens a drinking problem, but we couldn’t find any systematic evidence that alcoholics drink alone any more than do non-alcoholics.
If “alone” means drinking with people around whom you don’t know personally, then every solitary airline passenger who orders a drink (and many do) is “drinking alone”; That doesn’t mean they have a problem. If “drinking alone” means simply drinking away from the physical presence of any other people, then a group of alcoholic regulars at the same bar are not drinking alone; that doesn’t mean they don’t have a problem.
I suspect drinking alone got its reputation because of the sort of experience described by the eminent Professor Thorogood:
Every morning just before breakfast
I don’t want no coffee or tea
Just me and good buddy Wiser
That’s all I ever need
‘Cause I drink alone, yeah
With nobody else
Yeah, you know when I drink alone
I prefer to be by myself
But the critical variable here isn’t the aloneness, that’s an outcome of drinking in the early morning when very few non-alcoholic people drink. So it makes more sense for drinking problem screening scales to get to the nub by asking “Do you need a drink or two to get yourself going when you wake up?”.
Other alcoholics drink alone because they become so unpleasant when drunk that everyone avoids them. But again in that case it would make more sense for screening questions to get to the point — “Do you do things when drinking that upset other people?” — rather than focusing on the loose correlate of drinking alone.