We live in a society were drinking is pushed as the ultimate way to relax, unwind, and have fun. From adverts, products, banter between friends, to memes you can’t turn around for someone telling you how much fun you could be having if only you had an alcoholic beverage in hand. If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times, you’re out with friends and want to leave early and you get a chorus of “Pussy!” or “Old man!”, insults and cajoling to try and get you to stay, keep drinking, and get crosseyed drunk. This is most prevalent amongst men, where your ability to drink and the amount you can consume somehow equate to how much of a man you are. Strength, virility, and masculinity all wrapped up in how many beers and shots you can drink in an hour.
We have working lunches that involve beers if we work in high powered jobs, “A quick pint” after work is the norm and normally involves more than one pint, Friday is for drinking to forget the week past, and Saturday is celebrating the weekend, someone will utter the phrase “It’s six O’Clock somewhere!” as they crack open a ‘cheeky’ drink on a Sunday afternoon, lists of names for your babies based on alcoholic beverages exist, and mums celebrate a hard day of parenting with prosecco or wine.
So what does this mean for alcoholics? With our world revolving around binge drinking and drinking on the regular, we’ve normalised the concept of the Functioning Alcoholic. We’ve created a culture where it’s weird to be sober, and to stay sober… We can’t recognise an alcoholic anymore if they can go about their day to day as normal, we have removed the concept of the functioning alcoholic and will acknowledge only the stereotypical alcoholic: Jobless, unkempt, staggering, smelling, possibly homeless, certainly on benefits, and rosy cheeked from busted capillaries. We allow ourselves to enable alcoholics by missing the clues that they’re alcoholics to begin with. Just because someone can drink to excess and hold down a job, does not mean they don’t have a problem. They do. Their health will be at risk, their relationships compromised, their mental health is at risk too. By allowing and encouraging this idea that functioning alcoholics don’t really exist, we remove the ability for people in that situation to reach out and get help. If we don’t see the problem, surely there isn’t one, right?
Alcoholism is a mental illness, as any addiction is. When you’re surrounded by a culture that tells you that not only is drinking what makes you fun, but is something that is expected and marketed to, it makes it hard to fight back. It’s not only legal, but encouraged. We market games and stealth drinking appliances to enable us to enjoy our favourite tipple anywhere. If you’re in recovery, suddenly everyone has questions about why you’re not drinking. ‘Normal’ people drink, why aren’t you drinking? You can’t be teetotal without questions, and when you’re recovering that can cause havoc with your mind. These days everything has an alcohol based angle, from working to parenting to creating art. You can’t escape it, and when you try to, people look at you like you’re mad.
We need to look at our cultural relationship with alcohol, how we tie our identities and free time to drinking. Because it’s not healthy, and it’s only going to get worse if we don’t start dealing with it. I’m not here as a teetotal ‘killjoy’ out to ruin the buzz of anyone who drinks sensibly and reasonably, but it is important to find a balance between alcohol and fun, alcohol and gender, alcohol and stress. Because when we drink to destress, that’s when the problem can start, and if you’re unlucky enough to be prone to addiction, you’re at higher risk than anyone else.