Alcohol use has always been socially acceptable to some degree. Even during prohibition in the U.S., it was understood that alcohol could be readily procured if one knew where to look, and people still drank in public. But with the advent of the Internet, social media, and a streaming entertainment culture, a new trend is developing. Young adults are being portrayed as ‘wasted’ more and more, and this on-screen behavior is depicted as normal. What’s more, Beer, wine and liquor manufacturers are quick to take advantage with targeted ad campaigns.
In this post, we’ll explore this alarming normalization of heavy alcohol use in pop culture. If you’re struggling with alcohol use yourself, note that you’ll learn herein six tools to combat the social pressure to drink. You’ll also learn to recognize warning signs that use might be turning into abuse, and you’ll find out what treatment options are available should you decide it’s time to get help.
The Normalization of Alcoholism
It’s always been impossible for an at-risk individual to avoid alcohol completely. Alcohol consumption dates back to the earliest recorded history, after all, as does alcohol abuse. It’s always been valued for its intoxicating effects. It’s not too surprising, then, that as pop culture developed, alcohol’s star rose. Watch any classic movie, and you’ll see characters gleefully smoking and drinking. Smoking has been pushed from the spotlight, primarily because its devastating impact on health could no longer be denied.
But what of alcohol?
You Can’t Escape It
Unless you live as a recluse, never listening to the radio, watching television or using social media, you can’t escape it. Alcohol is everywhere. Goodness forbid you leave the house. You’ll be greeted by well-meaning folks urging you to ‘relax’ and ‘have a drink.’ Worse, sharing a drink or six is an expected ritual in certain business interactions, where the ability to slam down shots is equated to being ‘tough.’
The stuff is everywhere. It’s in movies, in ads and television shows. It’s at parties, concerts, and meetings. It’s even in some movie theaters. People drink at home, at barbecues, and at any and all celebrations—and the thought of asking other people to squelch their habit for your benefit makes you squirm.
The bottom line is this: other than coffee, alcohol is the most socially accepted drug, which makes it difficult for recovering alcoholics to avoid. The pressure to abuse alcohol is ever-present, and there’s no doubt this leads to high relapse rates.
But every year, alcohol claims the lives of over 90,000 people in the U.S. alone. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drunk driving took the lives of around 10,000 people in 2017.
Then, of course, there are the long-term consequences of alcohol to consider. Potential side effects of long term alcohol abuse include:
- Liver disease
- Heart disease
- Nerve damage
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Much more
Yet movies like Bad Moms (2016) put a focus on alcohol’s role as a ‘good time’ drug, frequently portraying “wasted” female characters for laughs. The overconsumption of alcohol in media is nothing new, of course, nor is the celebration of alcohol as a social lubricant. Cheers, the classic show set in a Boston bar, featured a recovering alcoholic, Sam Malone, as the owner of the bar—and bartender. This is in itself somewhat unrealistic, but the show featured regulars, such as accountant Norm, whose sole purpose seemed to be to inhale beer while telling jokes.
From Gabrielle Union’s collection of essays, We’re Going to Need More Wine, to Kelly Clarkson’s Instagram show Minute and a Glass of Wine, examples of alcohol normalization abound. Mommy Juice banter is becoming popular on social media, where exhausted parents commiserate about the stresses of parenthood. It’s easy to minimize, disregard or obscure the downsides of overindulgence of alcohol in a social setting—always has been. But the advent of the Internet and social media means that you can now bring that social aspect into your home, where you may be, in actuality, quite alone.
For the recovering alcoholic, the illusion of social interaction combined with actual loneliness can be a recipe for disaster.
According to one 2017 study , high-risk drinking among women increased by 58 percent over the previous ten years. Combine that with recent findings that bodily harm can occur with just one additional drink per day and you have the potential for a public health crisis.
One reason that social drinking may be increasing among women is changing social norms. Only 50 years ago, it was considered bad form for a woman to drink in public. Public intoxication, in particular, was a no-no. Naturally, this cultural expectation has changed in the last several years. Ever-increasing rates of depression and anxiety may be contributing as well. Depressed characters are portrayed on TV and in movies as needing a drink, and they’re depicted walking around their homes with a glass of ‘mommy juice.’
Needless to say, these cliched portrayals contribute to the normalization of heavy alcohol consumption.
Effects on Children
What are the risks to children who grow up in a culture where heavy drinking is normalized?
All children watch their parents. They watch how their parents interact with others and their environment. When kids do this, they’re watching for important behavioral cues—clues to acceptable social behavior. In short, kids look up to their parents.
There’s no escaping the fact that a parent who tells their kid not to drink, but who drinks themselves into a stupor every evening is sending a mixed message. The fact is, kids who grow up in a house in which the parents drink to excess are more likely to develop the habit themselves.
Employing euphemisms like ‘mommy juice’ can make things worse as it conveys the message that alcohol has no downsides.
We’re not suggesting that alcohol should be avoided altogether. But the fact remains that children pick up cues about normal behavior from their parents and immediate family.
Don’t Want to Drink? Have a Plan
Are you trying to kick the habit or maintain sobriety? Trying to avoid alcohol abuse? Are you constantly running into people who seem hell-bent on getting you to drink? Follow these tips to stay sober.
#1 Have a Firm Answer Ready to Go
When the inevitable question comes, you must have an answer ready. At every juncture, at every social event, your answer should spring from your lips. Of course, this requires some forethought and planning. For instance, if you’re going out with friends, or meeting someone, and you suspect you’ll be offered alcohol, you could decide that your go-to will be, “No thanks, I’m driving.”
#2 Make New Friends
It’s no secret that one of the easiest ways to ensure a relapse is to keep the wrong company. No one is suggesting you need to cut ties with drinkers forever. But making sober friends who share your dedication to sobriety will help you focus on your priorities.
#3 Don’t Fly Solo
If you’re going into a social situation and are concerned about the availability of alcohol, take one of your new sober friends with you. If this is someone who has been long-term sober, all the better. This ally can remind you of your priorities if they notice that glint in your eye.
#4 Put a Spotlight on It
Why do you want to be sober? Make a list of the reasons, and then think up ways to put those reasons front and center every day. For some, this means littering their walls with Post-It notes. Others send emails to themselves. Still others ask friends and families to call them once a week so they can reaffirm their dedication to sobriety. Whatever works.
The problem with intention is that it’s just potential energy. Only action matters. Spotlighting allows you to take many small actions, regularly, that together serve to reinforce your intention.
#5 Be Sneaky
What do you do if you’re in a social situation such as the dreaded business ‘meeting’ at a bar and you’re worried that others will think you odd for not drinking? If you’re out of earshot of the others, simply ask the bartender for a non-alcoholic drink in a cocktail glass, high ball or shot glass. Then nurse that sucker. If you’re worried that the bartender will give you an odd look, don’t. They’re used to it.
Note: While this works for folks who are many months or years sober, this play may be a bit risky for those who have recently relapsed. The sight of a shot glass, or the feel of a cocktail glass on the lips, can conjure a powerful urge to drink in some.
#6 Just Leave
You should think of your sobriety as fragile—as something that you must protect. If you’re in a social situation, and you feel the urge to drink coming on, or others are actively encouraging you todrink, leave. If these people are true friends, they’ll understand. If they’re affronted by your refusal to drink or are insensitive to your need to stay away from drink, then perhaps you don’t need them in your life right now.
Alcohol Abuse: Know the Warning Signs
If you’re concerned that your alcohol use is reaching dangerous levels, then it probably is. But there are several objective warning signs you can look for, too. If left untreated, alcohol abuse can take over your life. But knowing the warning signs can help you seek help in the early stages, where you have the best chance for reclaiming long-term sobriety.
Some of the most common signs are:
- Experiencing temporary blackouts or gaps in memory
- Unexplained injuries, such as bruising
- Los of appetite
- Loss of libido
- Making frequent excuses for drinking
- Extreme mood swings
- Choosing to drink instead of fulfilling other obligations
- Ignoring responsibilities
- Isolating yourself from family and friends
- Heavy drinking while alone
- A persistent ‘hungover’ feeling, even if you haven’t had alcohol recently
In addition, there are several questions you can ask yourself in order to get a more objective view of your alcohol consumption:
- Have you ever driven a motor vehicle while intoxicated?
- Have you ever felt like you should reduce your alcohol consumption?
- Have you ever tried to cut down, but were unable to?
- Have you ever had a drink very early in the morning to settle your nerves?
- Have you continued to drink even though you knew it was making you sad, angry or depressed?
- Have you lost interest in other activities since you started drinking more?
- Do you ever feel the urge to consume alcohol, or feel cravings to do so?
- Have you ever promised others that you would stop drinking and failed to do so?
- Has your drinking ever resulted in you being arrested or jailed?
If you answered ‘yes’ to more than a few of these, it may be time to get help.
If you’ve determined that you need help, there are many treatment options you could explore. Choosing to get help may be one of the most momentous decisions you ever make. So take your time when considering your various treatment options. For some, detox may suffice. Others may need ongoing treatment and support.
#1 Alcohol Detox Program
An alcohol detox program is the initial step in treating alcoholism. It may also be the most difficult in terms of upfront ‘dues.’ You’ll probably experience—potentially intense—withdrawal symptoms. Because of the potential of uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, you should only attempt detox under medical supervision. Treatment specialists at a detox facility will know what you’re going through, and they’ll know how to help you. After this initial detox program, you’ll be able to move on to other stages of treatment, if you choose.
#2 Inpatient Rehab
This is the most structured treatment option. This option will require you to stay on site while you adjust to sobriety. You’ll have therapy sessions aimed at helping you rid yourself of your need to drink. Behavioral cognitive therapy and other therapy models can help you learn triggers and recognize thought distortions that lead you to drink.
You may need continued treatment after leaving rehab to maintain sobriety. Regular meetings with an alcohol counselor, coupled with AA meetings, can help you meet that goal. On-going counseling lets you get help in both good times and bad. A counselor can help you work on any underlying issues that may be leading you to want to drink.
Whatever treatment options you pursue, taking that first step is crucial. The sooner you seek help, the sooner you can regain sobriety.
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If you’re in the Southern California area and are looking for help with your dependence on or addiction to alcohol, you have options! Reach out to The Hills in order to see how we can help you heal and develop ways to push back against the normalization of alcohol consumption in your daily life!