Staying sober is hard. Throw toxic alcohol culture and mental health stigma into the mix and the difficulty escalates. Allowing addiction and treating mental health as taboo is easier and more dangerous than you might think.
The last nine years of my life have practically been spent watching alcoholism suck the life out of someone I love. I saw all the sides: the complications, the excuses, the excuses, the healing. This person is healthy sober now and is very open about what the hardest part of getting and staying sober is: America’s obsession with alcohol.
The culture of toxic drinking plays a key role in perpetuating alcoholism by pushing alcohol at every event, judging someone for refusing a drink, using alcohol as a coping mechanism, and glorifying overconsumption. He creates a safe space for the addiction to live, calling it a hobby by naming it light things like “Mommy Wine Culture”.
“Mommy Wine Culture” led to the creation of t-shirts, koozies and wall-art expressing a need for wine to care for children, normalizing alcoholic tendencies while making a joke of it.
“Wine mom culture says the best and only way to be a mom is with a glass of wine in your hand,” says Erin StewartMSW, a therapist who focuses on motherhood, alcohol addiction and recovery.
According to Atlantic, “During the pandemic, drinking frequency has increased, as have hard liquor sales. In this month of February, nearly a quarter of Americans said they drank more over the past year as a way to cope with stress.
The drinking culture that our society has cultivated tells us that drinking alcohol is a sufficient form for coping, celebrating and everything in between. Did you break up with? To drink. Are you getting married? To drink. Got your dream job? To drink. Have you lost your job? To drink. Is it Thanksgiving? To drink.
It subconsciously programs vulnerable people who find it difficult to think that they can fix themselves by eliminating their alcohol problems. This undermines the already existing stigma of mental health against sobriety, as it is considered laughable if someone expresses a need for real help.
There are countless country songs glorifying and normalizing alcohol abuse, like Midland’s alcohol problem and that of Billy Currington Good enough to drink beer. In many cop shows I’ve watched, the strong, manly men drink a glass of bourbon in almost every scene. movies like The Hangover and Project X play on the dangers of overconsumption and laugh about it.
To the average person, these examples may seem like nothing. Maybe you are able to control your alcohol limit and have healthy ways to cope. However, a 2017 study published in JAMA Psychiatry indicates that “one in eight American adults meet the diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder”, which means that one in eight American adults can be triggered by these examples in real life.
According to The Washington Post, addiction is a common disease that affects approximately “12.7% of the American population”, including a family member whom I love very much. Having lived through their struggle and listened to their stories, I now notice every element of our society’s toxic alcohol culture in everyday life and wonder who around me is also struggling.
“If we ignore these issues, they will come back to us at much higher costs through emergency room visits, children with disabilities who will likely need care for many years for preventable problems, and higher costs for jails and jails that are the last resort for help for many,” said Marc Schuckit, a psychiatrist at the University of California, San Diego.
The next time you notice someone not drinking when everyone else is drinking, don’t ask. As the alcohol takes a therapeutic role in our society, beat the need to drink to eliminate your problems and help those around you who feel the need.