If you struggle to say no to a glass of wine – but you’d never dream of touching ‘proper’ drugs – make sure you read this post.
I’m always struck by the clarity we have about ‘dangerous drugs’ i.e. substances that we’ve been socially conditioned against.
Alcohol is also a drug, but most of us don’t think about it in that way because booze is so normalised.
In fact, most of us have been led to believe that alcohol is an essential part of a happy and fulfilled life.
As you know, I’m really passionate about cutting through all that nonsense. Alcohol does NOT have magical properties!
If you’re struggling at the moment, I hope the following points will help shift your perspective and keep you on track.
Here are 9 ways that we treat alcohol differently from other drugs – when we really, really shouldn’t:
1: We rarely call alcohol a drug.
You’ll often hear people refer to “alcohol and drugs” as if booze is something different. Alcohol absolutely IS a drug. I think the confusion occurs here because alcohol is legal, and for a long time it was thought that drinking small amounts did you no harm. We now know that isn’t true – no amount of alcohol is safe.
2: A problem with alcohol is seen as a personal weakness.
At the moment, society seems to believe that alcohol is a dangerous and addictive substance, but only for a certain subset of the population (i.e. those weak-willed losers who just cannot control themselves). This is strange, because with other drugs we’ve accepted that people will become addicted. That’s just what happens. The idea that alcohol is different, and that it should be possible to stay in control of a mind-altering, willpower-sapping, addictive poison is madness. I’ve written about so-called ‘normal drinking’ here.
3: People are labelled when they stop drinking.
I think alcohol might be the only drug in the world where you’re seen as having a problem when you choose not to consume it. We don’t call ex smokers ‘nicotine-oholics’. We don’t tell former heroin users that they’re ‘heroin-oholics’. They’re just people who – doh – stopped consuming a highly addictive, dangerous substance. Labelling people in this way reinforces the idea that sobriety is miserable and an absolute last resort. It also creates an ‘us and them’ culture, and that’s very dangerous.
4: There’s a separate language for alcohol.
Have you noticed how we talk about getting ‘high’ on other drugs but ‘drunk’ on alcohol? And whilst drug addicts need a ‘fix’, drinkers just need a ‘drink’? It’s yet another way of normalising alcohol and minimising the harms.
5: Alcohol is rarely demonised.
When the singer Amy Winehouse died, it was assumed that heroin and cocaine were to blame – after all, she had been addicted to a number of different drugs during her life. But despite the media focus on her illicit drug use, it was in fact alcohol that she struggled with the most. It was the only drug found in her system when she died.
Can you imagine what it would be like if the media reported on alcohol in the same way it covers other drugs? This interesting article imagined just that.
6: Wine and beer is sold next to bread and cheese.
In the UK, it is illegal to display tobacco products in shops. They’re kept out of sight, behind cupboards or under counters, and cigarette packets are covered with pretty grotesque warnings. Booze on the other hand, is very clearly on display for everyone, including children, to see. Whilst smoking far outweighs drinking when it comes to fatalities, alcohol is still one of the three biggest lifestyle risk factors for disease and death in the UK, after smoking and obesity.
7: We pretend there are health benefts to drinking.
If you look hard enough, you could probably find some kind of benefit to most drugs. But with alcohol, this has been taken to a whole new level. I’ve seen so many articles about red wine being good for you, or better than going to the gym (!) – but rarely are the claims backed up by proper research. We used to think that red wine was good for your heart, but the latest evidence suggests the benefits are far less than previously thought, and are outweighed by the harmful effect alcohol has on cancer risk.
In his book, Drugs Without The Hot Air, Professor David Nutt – a former UK government advisor on drugs policy – says this about alcohol: “There is no other drug which is so damaging to so many different organ systems in the body… most other drugs cause damage primarily in one or two areas – heart problems from cocaine, or urinary tract problems from ketamine. Alcohol is harmful almost everywhere.”
8: There are special days promoting alcohol.
There’s World Cocktail Day, World Beer Day … I think National Margarita Day was last week. As far as I can work out, the point of these days seems to be to give people a reason to drink and post pictures of it on Instagram.
9: We joke about it.
I don’t wish to sound like some uptight, sober bore, but it is a bit weird how acceptable it’s become to joke about drinking a lot and being hungover. My Facebook newsfeed is full of stuff like this:
I’ve seen this particular meme sooo many times! It’s one of many that do the rounds. Can you imagine us talking about any other drug in the same way? The more we joke about heavy drinking, the more normalised it becomes and the harder it is for people to stop.