Drowning in Alcohol Culture
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.
My husband is an alcoholic (he’s 75) and is extremely verbally abusive when he drinks. Unfortunately he doesn’t think he has a problem, he thinks I’m the one with a problem because I keep trying to persuade him to get help.
My two grown up children only visit for short periods of time as they leave as soon as he gets aggressive. We ‘ve lost friends as a result of his behaviour, although I still see them on my own as no one likes coming to the house.
I’m a Christian, ( my husband isn’t), so don’t want to give up on my marriage. I stopped drinking completely 15 years ago in the hope that if I wasn’t drinking at all, it might encourage him to moderate his own drinking, but it hasn’t worked. Are there any strategies I could use to help him see he has a problem and seek help?
Hi Sue! First, thank you so much for reaching out. My aunt is in a nearly identical situation with her husband, including the loss of friends and children not visiting. My uncle has never met my cousin’s children because she refuses to expose them to his behavior. The thing is, there’s only so much we can do. If a person does not want help, no amount of effort on our part will change that. I’m concerned for you and your well-being. Nobody deserves to be abused. Have you ever attended an al-anon meeting? This is for people with loved ones who are alcoholics. You may find support there. Counseling is another option. I know you don’t want to give up on your marriage and that your faith drives much of that decision. Your life is valuable, too. You deserve happiness and safety. Wishing you strength as you move forward.
I LOVE your blog. I can relate to all of it- especially this one. I am a working mom of 3 and blogger and suddenly alcohol was a nightly habit. It’s articles like this that make me feel I am not alone and it doesn’t have to be this way. Truly thank you!
Great post – I’ve struggled with drinking my whole adult life and it has caused me some major problems. I don’t think that coloring book or those saying are cute – they sort of “mock” the pain that comes with addiction and the struggle to get it together and live right.
Great article! I have been following your writings or awhile. Very supportive, thank you!
I’m little over 4 month dry after decade of daily binging.
Thank you and congrats on 4 months!!
This is the most encouraging thing I’ve read since I stopped drinking 2 weeks ago! Thank you! Im currently experiencing 2 totally different feelings about drinking: energetic empowerment, like im the queen of the world and totally got this sobriety by the balls VS. Oh crap, my friends bought me a bottle of wine at our old favorite plce to drink and theyre texting me to get my ass over there to meet them! What am i gonna do?? When the dust settles I try to read encouraging words about the blessings of living sober. When i was drinking i would see funny alcohol quotes that made me feel like what i was doing was fun and not destroying my family. Until i was buying a bottle of vodka every other day and swallowing advil every morning to cope. I feel so incredibly healthy and thankful I decided to quit! Thanks again for writing this totally realistic and lighthearted post about sobriety!
You’re so welcome! Thank you for this comment!
My 59 year old mother is currently in the ICU (day 7) from acute alcohol withdrawal syndrome after what was supposed to be a two night stay for back surgery. This has forced me to take a very hard look at my own consumption and ponder on alcohol in general. I, too, have become more aware of the alcohol messaging around us…and I find it so disturbing! When I told a co-worker “I’m stressed!” the advice I got is “go home and have a glass of wine”. (I didn’t have the heart to say Im stressed because my mom could die from alcoholism !). Ugh! Why do we feel like we need alcohol for every little thing? Kids have a blast just enjoying life through curious, sober eyes. *That* should be cool. That’s what we should arrive for…
Thank you for this, Lauren. I hope your mother recovers soon. A dear family friend of ours went through a similar experience her brother. Keeping you in my thoughts!
Thanks for this post and Lauren for your comment! All of it really hit home. I live in a 24-hour town. Drinking is everywhere! It is nice to read posts like these and see there are others out there. This is giving me hope and motivation!
I have been sober for 21 months now. I never really looked at myself as a heavy drinker. or even an alcoholic… until I stopped. And everyone around me was. Telling me how bad I was. Or I like this one. You can still drink in moderation… lol. RIGHT!
Anyways. I love what you wrote. And I will be following you.
Thank you so much Ang!
I never thought I would be a drinker much less a heavy drinker. I knew that I had problems and I needed help. Just stopped drinking recently. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks, Natalie! How is it going so far?
I agree! I just resently stopped drinking all together. It was getting out of hand and realized I needed to stop. So many have not realized what it’s doing. Thank You!
Congrats on quitting!
Great post. I grew up where alcohol was everywhere so still having it be everywhere doesn’t faze me. That coloring book is crazy, though. I’m sober 31 years, but when my husband and I go to a restaurant and we have to wait in the bar, I usually ask if there is a table we can wait at versus sitting at the actual bar. I don’t think I would say wow I’m going to start drinking, but I didn’t get sober to be uncomfortable. My husband is a social drinker, so unlike when I was growing up, I’m not surrounded by alcohol and drunkards at home.
I know this struggle as well. My husband still drinks but is very good about abstaining if I’m going through a rough patch. Most of the time it doesn’t bother me tho when he drinks around me.
Very well put. You echo my concerns over the attitude society is taking to alcohol now, which I also discuss in my post entitled “We are living in an alcohol delusion”. Are you on twitter? If so, let me know your Twitter handle and I’ll follow you.
I do! It’s @soberishco
Thanks! Have followed you.
Is everywhere and it’s really irritating.
I find it very distressing how commonplace these messages are. Drinking to excess is ‘normal’. I really hope that one day drinking will be viewed as smoking is today. I hope so for the sake of my children and the overall mental health of people everywhere. xxx
I have vacillated between two thoughts on this throughout my recovery. When I first got sober, I too found it unbearably shocking how much adverts about alcohol were saturated in everything. Magazines, billboards, etc. I didn’t realize until I stopped drinking how prevalent it was. I used to rage against them – how dare you invade my sober space bubble!? Later on I found I didn’t care. Whatever people – it’s your funeral. I found that for the most part, focusing on my own recovery is what mattered, and working with others really took my time and energy, and I enjoyed it.
There are times, not very often though, where I do get annoyed. I find that on Twitter that the booze ads are adjusted to me and anyone else who talks recovery from alcohol. It seems like a cheap shot (no pun intended). But for the most part, I am pretty laid back about it all. Maybe too much – sometimes I wonder if I *should* care more? A colouring book like that doesn’t bother me much, but I understand the message it is sending. Facebook etc is just full of people parading drinks around. And frankly, most of them can take it or leave it at the end of the day. I can’t! So I just stick with my recovery and to be there when perhaps one of those FB can’t deal and they need assistance.
Great post! Lots to think about!
Thanks for this! Really great perspective. I’m entering the phase of surprise that I hadn’t noticed until now just how rampant it all is. I’m not angry per se but I’m intellectually curious about the effects on us.
wow, that coloring book is really eye opening. And to be honest a few years ago I would not have even thought anything of it…now that I’ve stopped drinking I see those messages everywhere…especially on ads for alcohol…wooooof… 🙁
It really is! It’s so interesting how much we don’t notice.