Most of my life, I never touched cigarettes or drugs, and alcohol never appealed to me. When I was 22, I entered a toxic friendship with a girl who had a bad relationship with alcohol. At the time, I just really enjoyed her company, and started drinking socially when we were together. Unfortunately, it got to the point where we couldn’t hang out without getting absolutely drunk, which usually happened every weekend. Things quickly progressed, and before I knew it, I was getting drunk on weeknights by myself in between our hangout sessions.
Thankfully, our friendship crashed and burned within the following year, and with her absence, my alcohol consumption dramatically decreased. I didn’t realize the negative influence that our friendship was having on me until after she was gone. I remember hanging out with someone new and we had gone to the grocery store to pick up some ingredients for dinner. I absentmindedly headed toward the alcohol aisle and asked my new friend what kind she wanted. She politely said, “Oh, I don’t want any. You’re welcome to drink tonight if you want to, but that’s not really my thing.”
I was taken aback by the tone of surprise in her answer, as if my question had genuinely caught her off guard. Drinking hadn’t even crossed her mind, and it made me realize that my previous toxic friendship had conditioned me to feel like hanging out with someone while sober wasn’t an option. The part that bothered me the most was the realization that I didn’t even really want to drink that night with my new friend, I just naturally gravitated toward the alcohol aisle because I had done it so many times with previous company. I felt like consuming alcohol in the company of friends had become the norm. I was slightly embarrassed to realize that reaching for some alcohol while at the grocery store with a friend had become my standard behavior, but I was mostly thankful for her disinterest, presenting me with the opportunity to walk away from it. So, I did.
Over the following few years, I would drink on occasion, averaging maybe two or three times annually. While my drinking habits were no longer constant, the regret I felt the day after each drinking session was. I got tired of cleaning up the messes I made while under the influence. I didn’t like the way I talked to people or the damage I would verbally inflict on the ones I cared about. I wasn’t a fan of who I became when I had alcohol in my system. So, I stopped putting it in my system.
Recently, I was lucky enough to find the strength to stop drinking completely. December 2021 marked one year sober, and I have absolutely no regrets. There were a few occasions in which I was tempted to drink, but I successfully talked myself out of it. While I do believe I had alcoholic tendencies in my early twenties, I don’t believe I did during the last few years before I gave it all up for good. However, my sobriety is still something that I have to consciously participate in and protect. My avoidance of alcohol made me realize how strongly ingrained drinking appears to be within our culture. It wasn’t until I actively chose sobriety that I realized just how much our society seems to encourage alcoholism.
A lot of male acceptance seems to revolve around alcohol. A lot of men seem to measure their respect for each other in the firmness of handshakes, choices of alcohol, and tolerance levels of consumption. As if masculinity can be defined by blackouts and impending addictions. As if the man who goes out with the most pickled liver will win the grand prize and admiration of all. Not to mention the way “whiskey voices” are often complimented and even romanticized. At what point did damaging one’s vocal cords with the overconsumption of toxic liquids become a virtue?
Social media also plays a huge role in the normalization of alcoholism. How many likes can you get for that picture you were tagged in of you passed out on the bathroom floor next to a pile of your own vomit? How many masking alcoholic drink recipes or drinking challenges, with the intention to encourage as much alcoholic consumption as possible, have crossed your timeline this week? How many laugh reactions can you muster from your friends list by sharing that humorous meme about needing a gallon of vodka to get through the rest of your work week? How many new followers will you gain by using the hashtags #Lit #TurntUp #Savage #DRUUUNNKK under that new selfie you just posted on Instagram? Of all the beautiful moments to document and brag about in your life, why does broadcasting the moments when you purposely compromised your own well-being take precedence? Furthermore, why are those kinds of posts so often celebrated by their audience? Why do we engage in and encourage this type of behavior from one another on social media?
Other forms of media are also terribly guilty of glorifying alcoholism. How many songs on your playlist are about consuming alcohol in an attempt to heal a broken heart or cope with a difficult life? How many songs glorify the symptoms of excessive alcohol consumption? How many movies romanticize the notion of getting drunk and showing up at a lover’s door because the character didn’t have the balls to do so while sober? There is nothing romantic about showing up drunk and guilting someone into letting you in because you chose to compromise your physical wellbeing, leaving yourself too vulnerable to be left alone. That is manipulative and gross. Alcoholic dependency isn’t some beautiful thing that you should have to tolerate from someone to prove that you love them. Dehydrating your body and internal organs until you can’t think straight because you are afraid to feel your own feelings isn’t some noble artform to be admired and recreated. It is sick and it is sad.
Modern businesses are also thriving off of alcoholism. The ever-increasing interest and demand for breweries and wineries never used to bother me, until I became more focused on my sobriety and realized how much those industries are growing. I know there is a lot of science and craftsmanship that goes into creating various types of alcohol, and I understand the fascination with the artistry of it. I understand how someone could make a hobby of educating themselves on the delicate process of creating these drinks, and sampling different styles and flavors. However, I have learned that there is a thin line between hobby and habit, and sometimes hobbies can turn out to be symptoms of something darker. Because of the legality, accessibility, and artistic interpretation of so many various forms of alcohol, it appears that society often sweeps the dangers that come with consuming them under the rug in comparison to those of other substances.
Alcohol addiction is still prevalent in our society, though it is being masked by the opioid addiction epidemic. Alcohol is still ruining lives and destroying families. Alcohol is still killing people, both directly and indirectly, just at a possibly slower pace than some other addictions. Just because alcohol is legal doesn’t mean that it’s not problematic. Just because mainstream media appears to normalize, glorify, or even celebrate that toxic lifestyle, it doesn’t mean that alcoholism isn’t still a form of addiction whose price you will pay heavily for.
As a Millennial, I wholeheartedly believe that we are a generation who is dying to find ourselves. I’ve got a shoe box full of memorial pamphlets from funerals to prove it. I know too many people who didn’t make it through their twenties, or never even got to see them at all, because they were too busy searching for answers at the bottom of bottles that couldn’t love them back and functioning under the influence of what they found in there instead. Being drunk doesn’t fix or change who you are, it just reveals it. Be brave enough to be that transparent while sober. If you don’t like what you see, fix it. Stop glorifying alcoholism as a coping mechanism and an excuse to avoid doing the self-work. Heal your wounds instead of trying to drown them.
Bury the bottle before your family has to bury you.