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Opinion: Reconsider how much you rely on alcohol

It is probably more than you realize.
Image by Noah Liebl
Americans involve alcohol in most aspects of our lives.

It’s 6 p.m. on a Friday after a long week and you finally made it home after sitting in gridlock traffic for nearly an hour. Earlier today, your boss chewed you out for something that wasn’t your fault. All you want to do is put your feet up, sit on the couch and take the edge off with a few drinks. After all, you’ve earned it.


For far too many people, it doesn’t matter whether they have earned it or not. They are going to have a couple of drinks anyway. 

In situations like this, we often succumb to the opportunity to experience the euphoric feeling provided by alcohol with little regard for its impact on our minds and bodies. 

Unfortunately, our culture’s view of alcohol as a necessary tool for happiness and relaxation only compounds issues with alcohol consumption. Almost 30 million Americans aged 12 (12!) and older had an alcohol use disorder in 2022. 

It doesn’t help that alcohol is advertised in all major media, offered at sporting events and celebrations, sold at basically every supermarket in the country and a fundamental part of social life in the U.S. 

Worse yet, many of us rely on alcohol to make basic parts of our lives easier. If talking to people makes you nervous, why not drink until you no longer feel anxious? This activity is fun, but wouldn’t it be more fun if you and your friends were all drinking? 

Mo Nakamura, a graduate student in the Department of Psychology at the University of Minnesota, said a big reason why alcohol is so normalized is the substance’s role in emotional regulation.

“Because our society normalizes drinking alcohol as a part of regulating our emotions, whether that’s increasing our positive affect or dampening our negative emotions,” Nakamura said, “we believe alcohol isn’t as bad as other substances.”

In social settings, people often view drinking as a social activity and whoever is not participating is not “socializing” with the group. 

For many, college often jumpstarts a lifelong unhealthy relationship with alcohol. Regular binge drinking in college is a rite of passage accepted by adults and students alike. When kids finally get their hands on the previously taboo substance, they have no idea how to moderate it. 

Among students at the University, alcohol consumption increases from 38.4% of 18-year-olds to 82.1% of 21-year-olds, according to Boynton Health’s 2021 College Student Health Survey Report

However, what is particularly odd is many college students view drinking as more of a chore than a fun social activity. 

Four studies conducted in 1993 by psychologists at Princeton University found college students exhibited widespread evidence of pluralistic ignorance regarding their attitudes toward drinking and how they evaluated the opinions of their peers. 

Not only did participants mistakenly believe they were more uncomfortable with campus alcohol usage than their peers, but a large group of them (predominantly men) shifted their behavior toward what they believed to be normal alcohol usage. 

The studies also highlighted how many students mistakenly thought they would be ostracized for failing to adhere to mostly non-existent expectations surrounding their drinking habits. 

While it may not be revolutionary to suggest peer pressure occurs on college campuses, these studies about alcohol usage are critical because of how they translate to adulthood. 

Once you graduate college, the expectation that you will continue drinking for fun does not dissipate. In 2020, 24.5% of Americans ages 26 and older reported binge-drinking tendencies, according to the same 2021 College Student Health Survey Report

Corporate America often continues these unhealthy relationships with alcohol by serving as an extension of the drinking culture created on college campuses. 

At my previous summer job, there were multiple occasions each week when I overheard a significant number of my coworkers in their mid-to-late 20s discussing either “getting hammered” the night before or planning to do so right after work. Many of them seemed trapped working a job they hated and getting drunk to compensate for it with no other hobbies to help them get out of it.

Despite what you may think, grown adults often feel unwanted pressure to drink.

A 2020 Niznik Behavioral Health survey of over 1,000 U.S. workers found that nearly 30% of respondents felt pressured to drink if their coworkers were, while 20% felt similarly if their boss was drinking. Nearly half of respondents reported concerns about facing ridicule if they skipped out on company events with alcohol. 

The way so many Americans rely on alcohol to address everyday tasks and feelings is not just concerning, it’s incredibly sad. Why is something that is effectively poisonous and causes a considerable amount of avoidable pain and suffering each year such a necessary part of our culture? 

As someone at the tail end of my college career, I won’t pretend like I don’t completely get it. Some of the most fun experiences of my life involved alcohol and, honestly, I wouldn’t trade them for anything. 

I am not here to tell you to stop drinking entirely. It may be the best possible thing for your health, but completely cutting it out of your life may prevent you from making new friends and creating long-lasting memories. 

Especially as a college student, one of the best things you can do to keep your relationship with alcohol in check is to have hobbies that don’t involve drinking. 

While discussing ways for struggling students to maintain a healthy relationship with alcohol, ThanhVan Vu, a licensed alcohol and drug counselor at Boynton, said there are a wide variety of campus activities and student groups available to anyone. 

“Build a supportive community of friends and connect with people who share your interests so not all the people you hang out with are engaging in or abusing substances,” Vu said. 

We should not be living in a world where people are so consistently uncomfortable with how they feel sober. 

I can not speak to actual substance abuse issues or alcohol-related illnesses, nor do I understand what it is like to be an adult balancing work, family and happiness. I only want to encourage people to seriously consider how much they are relying on alcohol to have fun, relax, celebrate, communicate or do other basic things. 

It may be more than you think.

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  • L
    Mar 29, 2024 at 10:28 am

    One component that prevents people from addressing their alcohol consumption is that we’ve been held to a single black and white model of getting help. We’ve been trained to think that we are either fine or our lives are out of control. If you own your home, are steadily employed and/or check a lot of “normal” boxes, you may think your consumption is fine. There is actually no safe amount of alcohol to consume (no nutrients/ no health benefits/it is a carcinogen).
    However, people also fear being labeled an “alcoholic” if they want to turn down alcoholic beverages. Alcoholic is NOT a medical term. Instead we now look at AUD (alcohol use disorder) on a spectrum.
    We also used to be stuck solely with the AA model and our lives had to be crashing to address alcohol consumption. We took our DUIs, lost jobs and divorced spouses stories to AA meetings when we hit rock bottom. There are now other models (MAT-medically assisted treatment or SMART Recovery) that may work better for people who find that they are struggling and don’t want to wait until their lives are in complete chaos to address alcohol consumption.
    Not everyone who passes on alcohol at a party is necessarily an alcoholic (or maybe pregnant); some are being proactive with their “vices”.