Staying sober is hard. Throw toxic drinking culture and mental health stigma into the mix and the difficulty intensifies. Enabling addiction and treating mental health as a taboo subject is easier and more dangerous than one would think.


The last nine years of my life have practically been dedicated to watching alcoholism suck the life out of someone I love. I have seen all sides: the complications, the excuses, the apologies, the recovery. This person is healthily sober now and is very open about what the hardest part of getting and staying sober is: America’s obsession with alcohol.


Toxic drinking culture plays a key role in perpetuating alcoholism by pushing alcohol at every event, judging someone for denying a drink, using alcohol as a coping mechanism, and glamorizing over-consumption. It creates a safe-space for addiction to live, calling it a hobby by naming it light-hearted things like ‘Mommy Wine Culture.” 


“Mommy Wine Culture” has led to the creation of t-shirts, koozies, and wall-art expressing a need for wine to deal with children, normalizing alcoholic tendencies while making a joke out of it. 


“Wine mom culture says that the best and the only way to mom is with a glass of wine in hand,” says Erin Stewart, M.S.W., a therapist who focuses on motherhood, alcohol addiction and recovery. 


According to The Atlantic, “During the pandemic, frequency of drinking rose, as did sales of hard liquor. By this February, nearly a quarter of Americans said they’d drunk more over the past year as a means of coping with stress.” 


The drinking culture our society has cultivated tells us that drinking alcohol is a sufficient form of coping, celebrating, and everything in between. You got broken up with? Drink. You’re getting married? Drink. You got your dream job? Drink. You lost your job? Drink. It’s Thanksgiving? Drink.


This subconsciously programs vulnerable people who are struggling into thinking they can fix themselves by drinking problems away. It is damaging to the already existing mental-health stigma against sobriety because it is seen as laughable if someone expresses a need for real help.


There are countless numbers of country songs glorifying and normalizing drinking too much, like Midland’s Drinkin’ Problem and Billy Currington’s Pretty Good at Drinking Beer. In many of the crime shows I have watched, the manly, strong men are drinking a glass of bourbon in almost every scene. Movies like The Hangover and Project X play off the dangers of over-consumption and laugh it off. 


To the average person, these examples may seem like nothing. Maybe you’re able to control your alcohol limit and have healthy ways of coping. However, A 2017 study published in JAMA Psychiatry states that “one in eight American adults meet diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder,” meaning one in eight American adults can be triggered by these examples in real-life. 


According to The Washington Post, addiction is a common disease affecting around “12.7 percent of the U.S. population,” including a family member I love dearly. After experiencing their struggle and listening to their stories, I now notice every piece of our society’s toxic drinking culture in day-to-day life and wonder who around me is also struggling. 


“If we ignore these problems, they will come back to us at much higher costs through emergency department visits, impaired children who are likely to need care for many years for preventable problems, and higher costs for jails and prisons that are the last resort for help for many,” said University of California at San Diego psychiatrist Marc Schuckit.


Next time you notice someone not drinking while everyone else is, don’t question them. While alcohol takes a therapeutic role in our society, beat the need to drink away your problems and help those around you who feel the need to.

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