One of the hardest parts about being sober is the fact that drinking is socially acceptable for almost
every occasion. The wine and beer list is provided before appetizers or specials; the drinks are always
taken first. If you don’t want to wait for a table, you’re more than welcome to sit at the bar. Comedy
clubs and karaoke bars come with a two drink minimum. Then, of course, there’s the events and social
occasions that actively encourage you to drink; weddings, being the worst culprit. You raise a glass to
the happy couple and then for every subsequent toast. All that however, might be changing in Britain –
which means it may be a trend that reaches our shores.
What’s The Point?
New reports from this past year (2017) have shown that younger generations (specifically millennials
and Generation Z) in Britain are drinking less. This isn’t a fluke or for economic reasons either. In fact,
“since 2005, there has been around a 2 percentage points increase in the number of people stating that
they do not drink alcohol at all” (Office for National Statistics). In 2016, over 20% of the population in
Great Britain were teetotalers (people who choose not to drink). Younger people are drinking less and a
main reason is they don’t see the point.
Hannah Jane Parkinson, writer for The Guardian, took the time to interview some of young adults and
their responses to drinking were as candid as they were – well – sobering. One didn’t understand the
appeal, “Here’s a liquid you can drink and it can lead to you not remembering the night before and
making bad decisions.” Surprisingly though, that’s also not the primary reason Ben Gartside (19) doesn’t
drink. Gartside went on to say he’d rather his disposable income on food and travel. According to
Parkinson, many other young adults (aged 16 to 24) echo that sentiment, preferring to spend their
money on activities beyond drinks at a bar (or pub).
Drinking Vs. Smoking
In large part, it’s this revelation that causes Hannah Jane Parkinson to equate modern drinking culture to
a largely outdated smoke culture. She references the 1970’s when over half the population smoked, but
today the total population of smokers is under 16%. What was once thought of as classy is now viewed
as pitiful. People equate smoking to poor sexual performance, poor hygiene, and even a lack of
education. What was once widely accepted everywhere (planes, hospitals, and office buildings) is now,
not only illegal in most areas, but considered a pathetic vice. Drinking is potentially following suit.
Of course, it’s worth mentioning the cost since younger generations do tend to earn less and fall within
the lower incomes, but it’s far from the only reason the younger generation are drinking less. Parkinson
found some millennials didn’t want to struggle with alcoholism the way their parents did while others
simply felt alcohol negatively affected their health. Health issues were particularly interesting as
Parkinson found the younger generation were more open to communicating health issues and more
willing to seek out support.
Is Most Of The World Drinking Less?
Perhaps most telling that this isn’t isolated to Great Britain is the fact that it’s not the only country who’s
drinking less. In 2016, it was reported that most of the world was drinking less (Market Watch) – with
the one exception being America. Although this statistic also pointed to economic reasons, this is a
trend that’s not likely to change due to the most recent data showing the detrimental affects of alcohol
– alcoholic or otherwise.
There was a theory that a glass of wine every night was good for your heart, but recent studies have
proved that’s not only false, but may be causing cardiovascular problems (The Lancet). The research study found that alcohol consumption was associated with “higher risk of stroke, coronary disease, heart failure, hypertensive disease, and fatal aortic aneurysm.” It was clear that those who consumed less alcohol per week were in better health. More than that, less alcohol was shown to increase the life expectancy by as many as 5 years.
Even more compelling is a new study published April 24th of this year stated that alcohol consumption
was altering the bacteria living in our mouths and not for the better. There are over 700 types of oral
bacteria living in our mouths, but people who drink give rise to bacteria that cause cancer, gun disease
and heart disease (Micro Biome Journal). Drinking is not good for your health and more and more studies are building a case for abstinence altogether. As an American in recovery, this is our Christmas.
“The Self Destructive Muse That Haunts Me”
Alcohol Use Disorder – if I’m being medically correct – or “that self-destructive muse that haunts me” –
if I’m speaking honestly – is a problem. Part of the problem is empathy with the rest of the nation. Most
people don’t recognize the severity of addiction unless they know someone suffering from it. Even then,
many people get hung up on the “disease” vs “choice” element, which is another big reason why
referring to an alcohol addiction as a “disorder” is a better band-aide for misconception. It is a disorder
that brings out the worst in us which means it doesn’t offer much in the way of sympathy. This isn’t a
disease that eats away our minds, making us sympathetic cases, nor is this an unexpected cancer that
puts a cease-fire on interpersonal conflicts. Addiction is ugly and aggressive and it pushes loved ones
and friends away while tearing the user apart.
In short, addiction does not invite people in, it shoves them out. This is only exacerbated by the colossal misconceptions about what addiction is and how it can be treated, and this is why a trend that’s growing in Britain an in medical journals is a positive thing for us. In the same way “disorder” paints a better picture of alcohol addiction than disease or choice, so too is targeting “drinking culturally” a better choice than targeting “alcoholism”. Alcoholism is not relatable. As much as that hurts, any recovering alcoholic knows it. So why bother trying to fight on our behalf? Why not target drinking? Drinking is a poison – or a dark mistress that constantly piques your morbid curiosity – and it’s bad for your health. If people start seeing drinking, the way they do smoking, then a
conversation about what it means to be in recovery doesn’t need to happen. No explanation needed.
Could Ordering A Drink With Dinner Become Taboo?
Ordering a drink with dinner could become as taboo as a cigarette smoker within 15 feet of a building.
Someone seen with a glass of wine could be regarded with as much judgment as a man ordering several
sticks of fried butter. For so long, alcoholics have appeared to be the odd-ones- outs in American culture.
If you choose not to drink, they assume you’re in recovery, or pregnant, or strange, or struggling with
finances, or popping pills. Frequently, your friends and colleagues will ask why you didn’t order a drink,
but the time may be coming where not ordering a drink is associated with health and self-control.
Alcohol addiction doesn’t need to be fully understood to help assuage some of the problems
surrounding it. If more reports show the negative side effects of drinking, it’s very possible everyone
becomes a support system. They don’t need to know you suffer addiction only that drinking is unhealthy
and you’re trying to stop. Maybe they’ll join you. Maybe non-addicts will jump on the sober train and
alcohol will be slowly removed from our culture altogether. Time will tell, but the future is looking good.