Alcohol is everywhere. It permeates our culture. It’s in advertisements, movies, literature, and our yoga classes (which still baffles me).
Before I started getting serious about sobriety, I hadn’t really noticed because it was so ingrained into my everyday life. Of course, we can find it in all the old familiar places: bars, clubs, and restaurants.
But it doesn’t end there.
We’ve got book clubs with wine. Baby showers with wine. Painting classes with wine. Concerts in the park. With wine.
We are constantly inundated with the idea that we need alcohol to have fun, socialize, kick back, or function successfully.
Alcohol Culture Is Everywhere
I was browsing a bookstore the other day and happened upon an adult coloring book with the title “It’s 5’clock Somewhere.”
Inside, I found such little gems as a group of drunk people I could color with the line: “Alcoholics go to meetings. Drunks go to parties.”
On the next page was a liver (yes, a liver!) with cutesie little flowers and swirls to color in and the line “sometimes I drink water just to shock my liver.”
My personal favorite was a picture of a pirate (also inexplicably designed with flowers and swirls on the inside with the assurance that “Drinking before 10 am doesn’t make me an alcoholic. It makes me a pirate.”
My husband found the book hilarious. I saw it as a symptom of a larger problem.
Why is alcohol so ingrained in our culture?
At every turn, we seem to be promoting alcohol as a way to handle life.
Adult coloring books, which are meant to be a meditative and fun activity, promote pithy little anecdotes about alcoholic drinking, replete with pretty flowers and mandala designs for your coloring pleasure.
We are encouraged to end our weeks by getting drunk at the bar to “unwind.”
Women are targeted with low-calorie cocktails and tiny bottles of wine labeled as “mommy juice” because, apparently, we can have it all so long as we stay a little tipsy.
Home décor professing that it’s always wine o’clock hang on kitchen walls. These are supposed to be cute little gifts that we give to the women in our lives, but it masks a much darker trend.
From early on, we receive constant messages encouraging us to self-medicate with alcohol. Stressed out? Drink. Don’t feel confident? Drink. Kids driving you nuts? Drink. Worked out hard at the gym? Treat yourself and drink.
Alcohol and The Message We Are Sending
The profitability of these messages is obvious, but the consequences and societal impact may be less so.
It’s become so normalized that we rarely give it a second thought.
For the record, I do not believe that because I am sober, the rest of the world should be too. There are plenty of people who can drink responsibly and lead healthy, happy lives.
Although, if we’re being honest, it’s very hard to drink alcohol regularly and maintain long-term health, considering how inflammatory alcohol is to our body and the negative effects of alcohol on our brains.
But I digress.
The messages we receive from advertisers, product designers, and society are not geared towards moderation or alcohol as an occasional pleasure to be enjoyed in moments of leisure.
The message is alcohol as medication, a salve to all your internal and external crises, the reason you’re fun, and the secret to being easygoing and liked.
But none of that is true.
Alcohol makes us sicker, alters our personality, increases our stress levels, and is responsible for any number of regrettable or tragic behaviors.
The Rise of Women and Alcoholism
This trend is particularly troubling among women whose rate of alcohol consumption has dramatically increased over the years. I’m among this trend.
In 2020, the CDC reported that 9% of women overall and 17% of women aged 18-25 had an alcohol use disorder. Approximately 18% of women aged 18-44 reported binge drinking, with 25% doing so at least weekly.
There used to be a gender gap in drinking. Men tended to “out-drink” women at a ratio of 3 to 1. A 2016 study indicates the gap has narrowed and is now virtually nonexistent.
Women are drinking, on average, as much as men and not for pleasure. They are disproportionately drinking to cope with anxiety, stress, and increased feelings of isolation.
Those are alarming numbers. But we’ve been on this track for awhile.
I learned in my twenties that a night out on the town you couldn’t remember the next day equals a good time.
The wilder, the better.
We post the evidence on Instagram, TikTok, or Snapchat. Then we wait for the comments and likes to roll in. It validates some notion that we’re grabbing life by the balls and living for the moment.
We’re encouraged to take our drinking home and pour our cocktails into cheeky little mugs proclaiming “not coffee” with a wink and a nod.
Hell, you don’t even have to leave the house anymore. There are wine and booze clubs that will deliver customized selections to your door for a monthly membership fee.
Navigating Drink Culture As A Sober Person
When you stop drinking, you become hyper-aware of how much alcohol has invaded nearly every aspect of your life.
Work parties and networking functions, intimate gatherings with friends, art exhibits, dinner. It’s everywhere, and when you’re newly sober, these events can feel incredibly isolating.
People want to know why you’re not drinking. Some may even suggest that you’re suddenly a bore or try to shove a drink in your hand.
(For those types, I have a post on finding new friends when you’re sober, which I highly recommend if you’re surrounded by people shoving drinks in your hand.)
Engaging with others in these settings can feel a little like trying to function with one hand tied behind your back, and the instinct is often to retreat.
The tricky thing about that is that when we retreat from alcohol-infused events, we miss out on professional and social opportunities because rarely is one divorced from the other.
It’s a landscape I struggled to navigate for a long time.
Why has drinking inserted itself into so many aspects of our daily lives? How did we get here, and are we even fully aware of our participation?
There are hopeful signs that people are tired of drinking culture.
I’m encouraged by the increase of sober influencers on our culture and the ever-expanding presence of the sober community. The conversation about alcohol and why we drink is gaining traction on social media.
Sober celebrities and everyday folks are stepping out to talk about their experiences, and I’m both comforted and amazed by how many people can say, “me too.”
When I first quit drinking, I didn’t realize just how many people out there have been wrestling with the same issues with alcohol as me, and it helped me get a sense of normalcy back.
I suddenly don’t feel like a crazy person who can’t get it together. I realize that the issues I struggle with are pervasive and shared by others.
Whether it’s people going back and forth with themselves over signs of gray area drinking or full-blown alcoholism, more people are questioning the role alcohol plays in their lives.
How many working moms are filling that “not coffee” mug four or five times a day just to keep going? How many cups of coffee and double doses of Advil have we popped to make it to work on time after an after-work function where we “unwinded” a little too hard?
How many seemingly put-together women filling their glass in the early afternoon under that cute wine o’clock sign desperately wish they could stop?
Finding Each Other
I believe there are more of us out there than we realize.
Because alcohol is so widely celebrated and alcoholism still largely stigmatized, it is easy to live in a state of high-functioning denial, hiding in the shadows, combing the internet for signs that we’re not alone in feeling like something’s wrong.
I certainly did for years.
And whereas I can look at ridiculous coloring books, free drink tickets at a book reading, or stupid wall art that professes “one tequila, two tequila, three tequila floor” with an eye roll and move on, I still appreciate the power these little reminders have on our psyche.
The good news is that we don’t have to feel imprisoned by these messages.
We can own our sobriety and see it as a source of power, navigating social settings with nothing but a glass of juice and our innate wit.
It may take some doing to get to that point, but it’s possible, and millions of people are doing it every single day. When the tough days come, and the external pressures get a little too loud, there’s an entire sober community here willing to lend support and encouragement.