Alcohol Culture in America

The role of alcohol has a long and complicated history in the US.  Colonial Americans are said to have consumed more alcohol than during any other era of American history.  However, laws banning the production and consumption of alcohol would later mark the start of the Prohibition Era in the 1920s.  Supporters of prohibition were concerned about the moral and health implications of drinking and hoped that banning alcohol would eventually lead to an entirely sober country.  Unfortunately, criminalizing alcohol only empowered criminal organizations that found ways to produce and distribute alcohol on the black market. By 1933, the Prohibition Era had ended, and alcohol was again accepted in the mainstream.  Since then, alcohol has remained the only drug that is present at nearly every family gathering and social event and is so normalized that people who choose to abstain are considered outliers.  

Because alcohol manufacturers can spend huge amount of money on advertising, messages telling us to drink are practically everywhere we look.  Unfortunately, the dark byproduct of alcohol culture is addiction, along with many other serious health issues. Many people are unaware of how extremely present alcohol is in almost every aspect of their life until they are forced to take a serious look at their own drinking or the alcohol use of someone they love.  Beginning to pay attention to the many social cues surrounding alcohol can help us to feel more in control and less manipulated, and over time we may be able to distance ourselves from alcohol culture as a society enough to lower the rates of addiction.

Alcohol in Advertising and the Media

One study conducted in 2016 found that alcohol companies spent $421 million dollars on advertising in the first quarter of that year alone.  Children between ages 11 and 14 have been found to see an average of three ads each day encouraging alcohol use. Since roughly 80 percent of teenagers report having tried alcohol, it is worth considering how alcohol advertising is affecting underage drinking rates.  Ads for alcohol can be found on billboards, magazines, television, and the internet. Beer companies typically pay more than $4 million dollars for a thirty second commercial during the Super Bowl every year to reach as many viewers as possible.

In addition to blatant alcohol advertising, alcohol use and party culture are also normalized in a more subtle manner through television and movies.  In some cases, television shows and movies strike deals with alcohol manufacturers to feature their products on the screen. Other times, alcohol is simply a staple of the scene or a part of a character’s costume.  We rarely see people go on dates, have parties, celebrate at the office, or negotiate professional deals on the screen without alcohol. Alcohol is often depicted as a sign of sex appeal and power, and these messages affect viewers on a subconscious level.  

Social Drinking

It is true that alcohol can ease nerves and lower inhibitions in social situations.  For the large percentage of the population with social anxiety, alcohol can feel like a necessity in large groups and crowded places.  Another way of looking at this relationship, however, might be to consider how the constant presence of alcohol at social events has stunted our social and communicative growth as a society.  As adults, many of us learn to rely on alcohol to help us engage with others. Over time, this habit can cause us to doubt our own ability to present ourselves as interesting and capable without alcohol.  The truth is that most of us are far more pleasant and engaging while sober, but alcohol creates false confidence that leads us to believe we need a drink in almost every social situation.

For those that have developed an addiction to alcohol and choose to seek recovery, staying sober in social environments where alcohol is everywhere can sometimes be difficult and uncomfortable.  Not only do these situations have the potential to trigger a relapse in early sobriety, but going against the grain will inevitably provoke intrusive questions and force others to look at their own relationship with alcohol, which might be met with resistance.  

The Sober Movement

Those with alcohol addictions are no longer the only ones attempting to change the drinking culture.  Over the last decade, people have become increasingly aware of the importance of self-care, and how mental and physical health are deeply connected.  Alcohol has been revealed as a major culprit of deteriorating mental and physical health, even for those that don’t consider themselves to have an addiction.  Thanks to the internet, information is spreading faster than ever, and more people are becoming aware of the many negative effects of alcohol use. In response to this desire for change, companies are creating new products and environments for relaxing and socializing without alcohol.  Although we are far from seeing the end of alcohol use in America, there is hope that the spread of knowledge and the desire for wellness will make a significant impact on alcohol culture. 

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction and mental health issues, now is the time to reach out for help.  At Burning Tree, you will find knowledgeable and compassionate professionals that structure treatment to fit individual needs, including the identification of co-occurring disorders.  Through accountability and commitment to the 12 steps, each client will develop the tools to create a sober lifestyle and find lasting recovery. We specialize in the treatment of chronic relapsers and believe with the right support you can experience true and permanent healing.  For more information, call us now at 866-287-2877.    


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