Nearly a quarter of adults or 12 million people use alcohol to fill the 'hole in the soul' created by low self esteem and depression, experts warn.
Many drink for 'Dutch courage'
This percentage is unacceptably high and needs to be addressed, they say.
The root of the problem is society's acceptance of alcohol misuse as part of British life, according to Dr Massimo Riccio of the Priory Hospital.
A survey of 2,000 people reveals 60% of UK adults think it is fine for people to binge drink over the festive season.
The Priory Group research found 23% of adults have a drink to cheer up when they 'feel a bit low' and 14% use alcohol to give themselves Dutch courage before work or a social event.
Two in five drink before making love to relax or lose their inhibitions.
The problem appears to be worse in the North of England and escalates around Christmas.
Nearly a third rely on drinking to get through the Christmas party season, particularly those living in the North East.
Londoners are the most likely to abstain, with 33% claiming to never drink, as opposed to 22% of the rest of the population.
Over a quarter of adults have stayed in bed all day with a bad hangover and 4.3 million adults aged 16-34 had rung in sick at work because of drinking too much.
Almost 50% of adults have vomited after drinking alcohol
19 million have been embarrassed about their behaviour the next day after drinking too much
One-third of adults drink more than once per week
Source: The Priory Group
Alcohol misuse is also 'upmarket' - nearly 50% of upper-middle class and upper-class adults are frequent drinkers, compared to 30% of the rest of the population.
Dr Riccio said drinking to become drunk had become the social norm.
"British society takes alcohol misuse lightly and, in many segments, it's important to be a 'good drunk' to fit in socially, which is a fertile breeding ground for future alcohol problems.
"Alcohol is generally the first drug that people take.
"It is socially acceptable, ubiquitous and relatively inexpensive, all of which contribute to today's widespread misuse," he said.
Sophie Davidson from Alcohol Concern said: "Drinking has become socially acceptable in a number of situations and this survey highlights the desperate need for more information and education about the effects of alcohol misuse."
She said GPs were ideally placed to detect and support people with alcohol problems.
But she said: "There is a real need to improve early identification and treatment of alcohol misuse within primary care settings, such staff training to increase awareness of likely signs of alcohol misuse and better provision of treatment and care."