You may have seen the recent New York Times article that talks about the concept of gray-area drinking. It reveals how more people today are becoming “sober curious,” meaning they want to stop drinking for an undetermined amount of time. The article highlights mocktails, events in town that are alcohol-free, and aims to place a new label below the concept of an alcoholic: a gray-area drinker. This sober movement gives those who don’t identify as an alcoholic a space to work through their drinking issues. (Williams) But what isn’t directly stated in this article is the concept of alcohol normalization and marketed movements. If there is a large group of people who want to stop drinking but aren’t sure they can, are marketed sober events really the answer? Think about sporting events, subway/bus advertisements, and celebrities. There are stadiums named after alcohol brands, ads on the sides of racecars, and multiple endorsements from movie stars to pop culture icons. Alcohol use is ingrained in U.S. culture, especially when it comes to binge drinking. The problem isn’t the advertising, as such. The problem is rooted far deeper in the normalization of all of the above. Advertisements are used to get us to buy a company’s products for the sole purpose of making money. But we aren’t talking about toilet paper or cars in this scenario. We are talking about a product that can lead to death. If people of all ages are exposed to these advertisements, then we are slowly allowing all to believe that this deadly product is okay, normal, and good. And if we start marketing for short-term sobriety, we are adding to the underlying issues alcoholics and addicts are already attempting to rationalize.
In the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, it was documented that 30% of high school students across the U.S. drank alcohol within 30 days of the survey. Overall, 11% of alcohol consumers in the US are 12-20 years old which feels crazy because that demographic is not allowed to drink. And in 2013, there were 119,000 ER visits due to alcohol use of people in the aforementioned age group. (“Underage Drinking”) Because underage drinking is illegal, it’s hard to find accurate data, but if these numbers are the cases we know, how many more cases are going unnoticed? Underage drinking has been portrayed in movies and TV shows for decades, and it seems drinking in high school and getting blackout in college are rites of passage, but we are forgetting that not only is this behavior illegal, we are talking about a chemical substance that can harm and kill. So why is our society okay with this product? Why are we continuing to normalize the substance and the negative behaviors surrounding its use? Alcohol is marketed to all of us for one reason—someone is making a lot of money on the other end. But the reality is that alcohol is a top 10 leading cause of death worldwide. Between overdoses, car accidents, and prolonged exposure leading to deadly health issues, alcohol is slowly killing us. (May) It seems this marketing is leading to the gray-area drinker that is thankfully waking up to the fact that their behaviors are not normal, but if we normalize this type of drinking, we are again falling into the same pattern of Capitalism. We already normalized the “I need a drink after a tough day” comment, we make memes about getting drunk, and promote day-drinking through brunch mimosas, but we forget about the consequences of those behaviors. Those memes and that marketing don’t show the hangovers, the hospital trips, the lost time for fun and work, and all of the deaths alcohol has caused. Forgetting those consequences is the crux of normalizing alcohol.
As a nation, we focus on clean eating, clean skincare products, and organic cleaning products to keep our families safe, but daily, the same preachers are ingesting a deadly product that is known to lead to tragedy. So, why won’t we stop? Maybe the real question is why can’t we stop? It’s time to become stronger than the ad campaigns, the images we see on TV and in film, and focus on ourselves. Why do you drink? And are you able to stop? These answers may lead to the realization that you are a gray-area drinker, and that’s okay. But the implicit message of the article is that gray-area drinking is still a problem. And if fall into this category, it may be time for outside help.
If you or an adolescent you know is pondering these questions, realize you are already on the path to a better life. Alcohol normalization can mask addiction and blind us to the fact we may be in pain. Reach out to Stonewater Adolescent Recovery Center today to work through your alcohol questions and concerns and find out if treatment is right for you. It doesn’t hurt to call but continuing to drink may hurt you in the long run. Call today: (662) 478-9463