Updated: Nov 9, 2020
I cannot speak for everyone, but I have certainly fallen victim to alcoholic peer pressure. I would be shocked if there was anyone who has not felt some pressure to drink from their peers or their society. In the course of one day, it is not unreasonable to feel pressure from multiple sources to drink by the time the day is over. Let me walk you through a day like this.
I wake up early because I did not drink the night before, and I want to get a jump on the day's events. I get up, make coffee, and run through my intentions for the day. I do a quick workout, and I feel ready to take on the day. On my way to work, I listen to my favorite music station. In the course of forty-five minutes, I hear lyrics for several songs that mention alcohol, weed, or other drugs in them. The D.J. promotes a party at a local bar at which the radio station will attend, and she recommends having a designated driver because the party is going to be off the hook. On the side of the road, I see a billboard for a popular whisky with palm trees and blue skies in the background. The tagline reads something about staying calm by drinking the product. I park my car and walk into my place of employment. Before I reach my desk, a coworker excitedly mentions a group is getting together after work to throw a few back. I mention I have a busy week and probably won't make it. The coworker calls me a degrading name in an otherwise friendly tone and says if I do not show up, I'll never hear the end of it. At lunchtime, I sneak outside to eat alone and spend some time scrolling through my social media. Within five minutes of scrolling, I see a half a dozen friends photographs proudly depicting their drinking excursions, three memes making fun of how much we drink as a society, and one video of a drunk guy barely making his way down the street while people laugh at him and do nothing to help. When I get tired of scrolling through social media, I pull out the novel I am reading. One of the characters, the father of the protagonist, cannot make it through a day without his "Skull Popper" and chewing tobacco. After work, I begrudgingly meet the group for drinks. After two drinks, I alert the group I am heading home because I have a long week. In unison, they call me degrading names in an otherwise friendly tone and tell me to be a man. I stay because I don't feel like dealing with the consequences if I don't. I drink far too much and then take an Uber home. At home, I decide to drink more because, why not? I then watch my favorite television show. In the show, the main character once again falls off the wagon, which is portrayed as normal, because she just can't deal with life without alcohol. I pass out on the couch. I wake to a preset alarm and begin a new day.
How many times did an outside influence encourage me to drink throughout the day? I wasn't even trying very hard and I count eight separate occasions where alcohol was advertised, encouraged, or placed before me in one day. How many different forms or mediums were used to get the message across? There were the radio and music; billboards and advertisements; friends and coworkers; television, and let's not forget my own personal encouragement once I got home to drink more because what difference did it make at that point? Throughout any given day, we are assaulted in varying forms and mediums to pick up a bottle and drink. Most of the time, we are told to drink because it will make us happy, cool, popular, or part of a group. Other times, alcohol tells us we need it to simply relax. And still other times, alcohol tells us we deserve it after getting through a hard day at work. There is a litany of reasons alcohol tells us to consume, but how many times do we hear the reasons not to drink? Do we not hear these reasons because they do not exist? Of course not. We don't hear them because if we heard the reasons not to drink as often as we hear the reasons to drink, nobody would drink alcohol. Imagine a billboard that showed a person horrifically hungover waking up in a bed they had wet and proclaiming this is your life if you continue to drink alcohol. Would you buy into it? Nope.
Family and Friend Pressure
This is a difficult one to swallow because we want to believe our family and friends have our backs and our best interest at heart. Nevertheless, they too pile on the pressure without even knowing or trying to. Think of the scenario above. Coworkers calling me names because I did not want to go out drinking. Nobody wants to be made fun of or thought of as an outsider. How many times have you been told to have just one more? How many times have you said you would have just one more? Our friends see us and we see them as comrades of the alcoholic lifestyle. Why else do the majority of our friends partake in the drinking lifestyle to the level at which we do? We want to feel better about our own actions. We want to know we are not alone. We want to feel as though we do not have a problem with alcohol.
Family is not much different, but it starts at a much younger age. I am fairly certain none of our parents, siblings, or relatives purposefully tried to encourage us to drink. I don't believe there was a grand scheme to get all the young kids addicted to alcohol. Regardless, whether they tried to or not, they played a very significant role in most of our introductions to alcohol. What are your earliest memories of alcohol? I mean, before you even started drinking, what do you remember? I remember my family drinking, laughing, and acting childish. I remember thinking it was cool when they acted as silly as we did. I remember thinking whatever the reason they were acting that way, I kind of liked it. I also remember how much the adults looked forward to it. I remember my dad drinking on the way home from work. I remember the exacerbated sighs following the first drink after a long day. I was so intrigued by alcohol I would try and sneak sips of used glasses just to see what all the fuss was about. Alcohol was a big part of the adult culture I grew up in. I could not wait to drink, even before it was legal for me to do so.
I have already spoken to this a little, but the media's influence on alcohol is tragically enormous. In a society completely enveloped in movies, television, music, and even literature, alcohol's role in all forms of media is overwhelming. You cannot watch an adult television show, or many TV13 shows, without witnessing some glamorization of alcohol. Kids looking forward to and sneaking it. Adults partying and celebrating with it. Traditions revolving around it. Alcohol is everywhere in the medium of television and movies. It occurred to me last week how three of the shows I watch have sensationalized alcohol on some level and even glorified falling off the wagon. Why is it funny or entertaining to witness the collapse of another human being? It's not.
Literature is another medium for the perpetuation of alcoholism. I love to read novels, but they are just as guilty of spreading the encouragement to drink as any other medium. You might say in response to this to not read books or watch shows that include alcohol, but try and see how far you get with that motivation. People joke about finishing Netflix. If you try to only watch alcohol-free shows you will finish alcohol-free Netflix rather quickly. Alcohol is a part of all our forms of storytelling entertainment because it is a massive part of our everyday lives. Stories come from our experiences and alcohol is just as much a part of the human experience as family, friends, careers, love, triumph, and loss. Do you want to know the worst part of this whole scenario? Because of our societal and personal relationship with alcohol, we unconsciously and willingly perpetuate it every day to everyone we know. We are alcohol's best proponents and advertisers.
If you have not noticed this yet, take a look at the way movies and television rate the use of alcohol. They will justify a rating in the following ways. Sex, nudity, drugs, violence, language, adult content, and sometimes substance abuse. They do not ever state alcohol as a reason to rate a show for older audiences. 28 Days, Bad News Bears, and Orange County are movies about drug addicts and alcoholics. They are rated PG or PG13. Is addiction a suitable topic for a thirteen-year-old? Why? They rate them that way because the media world knows the teenage demographic is one of the most impressionable and willing demographics available. An R rating would lose the majority of their growing audience.
This obviously goes without saying but the advertising of alcohol is simply ridiculous. Every ad you see about alcohol sensationalizes the amazing life we can have if only we consume it. I recently saw an ad for a brand of beer that made my jaw hit the floor. It talked about all the bad happening in the world with covid and then stated, at least we have beer. Are you kidding me? With all that is happening in the world, beer is what we can look forward to? No thanks. I am sure you have seen the memes showing a stadium of people with the tagline, AA meeting in 2021. Is that really funny? I don't think it is at all, but once again we are advertising alcohol for alcohol.
Look how alcohol is displayed in restaurants, bars, and grocery stores. It is generally displayed as some sort of shrine. Glass backgrounds with lights illuminating the illustrious liquid of all shapes and colors. Lines of bottles facing with labels out across the entire wall and ceiling. Mountains built from twelve-packs displayed in the center of the grocery store. Lines of bottles sitting on the only decorative and wooden shelves in the store. Dispensers for hard alcohol and machine blended drinks with lights and labels virtually calling for the next customer. Everywhere you go there is an attempt to draw you in to make the purchase. Even when you are somewhere you cannot readily buy alcohol like the street, shopping centers, or movie theaters, ads are displayed on busses, benches, billboards, and even taxis.
College campuses have one of the largest numbers of alcoholic ads per capita and the demographic is 75% underage. The brands advertised to this demographic are the brands consisting of ultra-sweet flavors because this demographic doesn't like the actual taste of alcohol. It has to be masked with syrupy sweet flavors that have nothing to do with alcohol. Flavors like peach, strawberry, cherry, mint, and even chocolate. The influx of flavored alcohol has increased dramatically in recent years. Someone figured out if it doesn't taste like poison more people will drink it, and they will drink even more of it. Has it worked? Very well.
What does it matter?
It matters because until you realize the extent to which you are being played as a pawn in the alcohol industry, you will continue to march to the beat of their drum while unknowingly and unwillingly perpetuating and advertising their product for them. You will continue to drink more and you will experience all of the maladaptive behaviors directly associated with alcohol consumption. Your physical and emotional health will slowly deteriorate, and you will see a decline in your activity, motivation, and achievements. Depression and anxiety will set in, if it hasn't already, and you will struggle to maintain a positive lifestyle. As I have said before, alcohol does not offer one positive benefit to your life, even though the industry desperately wants to make you believe otherwise.
The single most important step I took in sobriety was when I began seeing the industry for what it really is and consequently began to question it every day. Everything I heard regarding alcohol was lies. Everywhere I went I witnessed the glorification of alcohol. Everyone I talked to perpetuated the benefits of alcohol on some level. Almost every television show, movie, book, magazine, and song tried to sell me on its ability to make me happier. The more I looked, the more I witnessed the lies. The more lies I witnessed, the less enamored I became with alcohol. It took very little time before I began to feel staunch beliefs that alcohol had no place in my life. Before I knew it, living alcohol-free was actually quite easy. It has become as easy as saying no to eating arsenic, drinking poison, or jumping off a cliff. Why would I do any of those things? I wouldn't, and neither would I drink or support one of the biggest lies ever told to people.
Yes, there are pressures everywhere, and there are pressures every day to imbibe alcoholic beverages. Here are some questions you really need to be asking yourself. Are you are willing to fall prey to the bullies of the alcohol industry. Are you willing to let someone push you around to the point of losing yourself and your identity? Are you willing to give up on your dreams and aspirations? Are you willing to allow everything and everyone around you to lie to you every single day? If not, it's time to open your eyes and ears and allow yourself to become aware and open to the truth. The truth is this: there is a villain out there effectively taking over the hearts and minds of the people we love. It is up to us to help them see the truth. It is up to us to affect change. It is up to us to normalize life without alcohol.
It is up to us.