To drink or not to drink? That is the question…

    If you had asked me as a child, or even as a young teenager if I ever thought I would drink, my answer would have been “No.” I came from a family of people who out right opposed alcohol due to direct family members on both my mother and father’s sides who had died due to alcohol/drug use, including my father’s biological father. Growing up, I saw alcohol as something I never even wanted to do, I had no desire to even try it. It was not that I despised alcohol or thought less of people who drank it, at that time, for myself at least, I simply thought I would never want it in my life.

     I still remember my first drink, and I regret how I handled myself when I started to drink. I was only a few weeks into my freshman year of college and through some ongoing circumstances that I had been dealing with over the last several years, along with new pressures of college I found myself sitting in the middle of my college campus, on a bench, at close to midnight. I was in a bad place personally and I felt so lost and had no idea what I wanted to do or even what I should do. My friends found me and dragged me to their house right on the edge of campus where I just sat on their front porch and cried. Then they handed me a drink which I at first said I didn’t want. But after a while with their constant prodding, I felt that I couldn’t say no. They convinced me that it would help and so I had my first drink at a point in time where I hated everything about myself. And that situation influenced my drinking habits for the next few years. I drank because I didn’t like myself. I drank to avoid my life and avoid facing the world. Through that freshman year I drank several times a week and by my sophomore year I can really only remember a few days that I was not drinking. And, I would honestly say that I am lucky I was able to stop and find myself in a place where I did not ever feel like I had to drink, or that I craved to drink, because if I had, I am not sure where I would be now. I do not regret drinking on occasion now, what I regret is how I started drinking and how long I drank for the wrong reasons.

     But why did I take up so much time to share this, because I always thought I would be sober, I never thought I would drink. And, I believe that abstaining is an important avenue for some people. It just becomes complicated when peer pressure and society come into play. Abstaining from drinking is something we accept on a surface level, but when it comes down to it, people are judged when they don’t participate in what everyone else is doing. When I had that first drink, I felt like I could not say no, and that is dangerous. We have to come up with ways for not drinking to be accepted.

     I first thought of seeing what was out there in supporting people who are in recovering and trying to remain sober. The Recovery foundations network actually had 6 ways to help a loved one stay sober: Now I believe that while these are aimed at individuals who are recovering, they still frame the conversation in a light we should take to heart. They say to accept the person without judgement, this is important because why in the first place are we judging a person for not drinking? It should be a personal decision that peers do not force upon a person. There is also the focus on creating a substance-free environment. This can be so hard as even now alcohol is used at parties, business, tv shows, movies, music videos. Even at my college new alumni event right before I graduated (my college was a dry campus) all they served us to drink was sweet tea, beer, or wine. They didn’t even have water. What we need is a move towards not showcasing alcohol as the go to beverage of these industries, but instead chose a path that shows that there is a choice not to drink.  

     I remember an add I saw when I was in Uganda last month that said 0% alcohol, 100% fun. I tied to find a photo of it but sadly I could not. When I first saw it, I was thinking, “Oh this is cool, it’s showing an add that is promoting that you do not need to drink to have a good time. That is great!” I think that there could be a wonderful campaign using something like this to promote the idea of being sober and that you do not need to drink to have a good time. There could be the use, not only of social media, but of ambassadors and celebrities who already choose to have a sober life. It would provide a positive roll model people could turn to.  

However, I recently discovered the new thing in the market. The 0% alcohol beers.

These are beers and other drinks, but, they have no alcohol in them. Personally, I am not sure if this is a step in the right direction and a way for people who do not drink to have less pressure on them within social environments where there is alcohol, or if it is increasing the pressure even more. I have included a few links about them though below:



     At the end of the day, I believe that choosing to drink should be a personal choice. You should never feel pressured to drink, but I think you should also be in an environment where you feel comfortable saying no. Nothing will change overnight, but we all need to stand and support people who chose to abstain so that the environment can be shifted.  

Choosing Sobriety

One of the problems of “sober culture” is that it is generally associated with teenagers, those with strong religious beliefs, and people in recovery. It has not typically represented the average woman and man who decide not to drink alcohol for any of the other countless reasons: they don’t like the taste, they worry about the potential health consequences, they don’t want the empty calories, they want to spend their money on other things that bring them joy. Yet, if an individual declares that they are choosing to remain sober, it evokes questions from their audience: “are they in rehab?”, “did they become religious?”, or, if the individual is a woman, the unavoidable “is she pregnant?” that leads to careful glances at the woman’s midsection for evidence of a bump.

But, in fact approximately 46% of people in the Americas are choosing to abstain from alcohol, more than half of whom are former drinkers. 

Maybe the problem in the United States, among many other countries, is the fact that drinking alcohol is the norm. Consider all the places and events where drinking is supported. Going on a trip? Have a drink at the terminal while waiting for your flight to board, and then select from a variety of wine, beer, and spirits while you are in the air. At a baseball game? Nothing is better than a cold beer to go along with your peanuts and cracker jacks. Attending a wedding? At best, there’s an open bar. At worst, it’s a dry wedding (but most likely you will find at least one person with a flask stowed away).

These are just a few examples of the ubiquitous nature of alcohol. So it makes sense that people who are deciding to abstain from alcohol have a hard time feeling supported. How can we, as a society, make sobriety not just a choice but the default?

Maybe the answer lies in the amazing efforts of the anti-smoking campaigns of the earlier part of this century. The Truth Campaign, for example, was notorious for showing the public what was on the other side of those glossy ads of sophisticated, handsome smokers. The “truth” was that the heads of the tobacco companies (mostly older, white men) were making billions of dollars by carefully tapping into consumers’ psyches to convince them that their cigarettes, though highly addictive and deadly, would make them cooler, sexier, smarter, or whatever adjective the target population coveted. 

Alcohol companies are not much different. Their main goal is to get as many customers as possible to buy and consume their products, regardless of how deadly they are. Take, for example the CEO of Anheuser-Busch, Carlos Brito, who has this to say:

“At the heart of our business, we strive to understand what unites people. From sports, to music, to dinner parties, or nights out with friends and family, it’s our goal to make those occasions even better with our extensive product portfolio.”

Clearly, the narrative he is trying to sell to keep his $1.49 Billion dollar company afloat is that “alcohol brings people together”.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Alcohol is the third leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States. Approximately 88,000 men and women die each year from alcohol related causes. And alcohol is the source of a myriad of other morbidities, including non-fatal accidents, chronic diseases, birth defects and social harms. None of which are listed alongside photos of people drinking Michelob Ultra at the lake.

We need to rebel against these companies that lie in order to sell their products and that analyze and target the weaknesses of the most vulnerable and susceptible Americans. It’s not enough to just report on another alcohol-related death because, as callous as it may sound, we have become desensitized to it in the media. We need to call out the alcohol industry by name. “Today, another young person died due to Bacardi, or Jim Beam, or Smirnoff.” Once we start to associate alcohol not only with “good times”, but with the truth, we may no longer question why people chose to be sober. 

Sober Curious: A Night Life Alternative

 Consuming alcohol has almost become synonymous with going out on the weekend with your friends especially if the pre-determined meeting location is a bar. The situation usually plays out by one friend getting there earlier, and ordering a drink from the bar while they wait for the rest of the group. Then the rest of the friends or group arrives, and you all order another round of drinks while you wait for the food, and then maybe one more round of drinks before you all leave for the night and head your separate ways.

Now, one can say that this may be a scenario that can be quite expensive with the group in the example ordering three round of drinks and according to an article entitled The Recent Evolution of How we Get Tipsy“, that covered an NPR alcohol report, it actually is! This report found that as production of alcohol in America has become more efficient, alcohol prices have declined 39% from 1982 to 2012. During that same time span, the prices of alcohol at bars and restaurants has increased 79%.Prices of Booze At Home and Away That increase of price is coupled with the fact that bars and restaurants are now starting to focus more on the sale on alcohol rather than the sale of food. This led to Americans in 2012 to spend an estimated 40% of their expenses at bars and restaurants on alcohol, in comparison to just 24% in 1982. 

So with Americans spending a majority of their money while eating out on something that is unhealthy, in bars and restaurants where the alcohol is getting more expensive, what happens if you want to escape this culture for a weekend or two but still want to attend a bar-esque atmosphere with your friends?

Well, that is where the phenomena of “Sober curious” or “Sober Sometimes” comes in. NPR did a piece on this new social club that is mostly made up of women in their 30s, and the NPR piece stated that one of the main reasons behind the women joining the club was due to the fact that they “have demanding jobs and simply do not want to feel foggy or hungover anymore.” 

These social clubs usually have bars dedicated to them where people can gather, eat, listen to music, and socialize all while consuming non-alcoholic beverages. This gives individuals a healthy alternative to going to bars that serve alcohol but still allowing them to enjoy all of the other aspects that comes with night life.


Source: Julia Robinson for NPR

But, the question begs itself, how effective could this new initiative be, especially in a climate where drinking and going out is seen as the norm?. Well, the first step would to be establish more bars that are strictly dedicated to serving non-alcoholic beverages to its patrons. But to be competitive, these bars need to still offer the same amenities and activities that bars that serve alcohol do which would be good music, good food, and good service. That accompanied with word of mouth of the atmosphere of the bar being just as fun, then the growth for these types of establishments is endless, and will slowly become culturally accepted. But, for the latter to happen, individuals must be educated on the harms of drinking and how even taking a small break, if you choose not to become completely sober, is still a healthier option, and non-alcoholic bars are the way to go. But, if the value is seen in these sober bars, then potentially investments can be made into these types of establishments that will make them bigger and better than ever, and will make these bars an excellent alternative to individuals that want to go out and socialize with friends but do not want to drink.