Back in my drinking days, I always struggled to say no to a glass of wine. Yet I never had a problem turning down ‘proper’ drugs.
I grew up with the “just say no” advertising campaigns of the 80s and 90s. It was drummed into us that drugs were very, very bad.
But alcohol? That was ok… right?
Most of us have been socially conditioned to treat alcohol differently. We’re trained to see all its benefits and very few of its flaws.
We’re told that alcohol is an essential part of a happy and fulfilled life (when that really isn’t the case).
9 Ways We Treat Alcohol Differently From Other Drugs
1. We rarely call alcohol a drug
If you ask someone to name a list of drugs off the top of their head, most people will leave alcohol off the list. In fact, we often 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 – but that doesn’t mean it’s any less harmful. In 2018 this large global study found there is no safe level of alcohol consumption.
2. A problem with alcohol is seen as a personal weakness
There’s a mistaken – yet widespread belief – that alcohol is an addictive substance, but only for a small subset of the population (i.e. those weak willed losers who just cannot control themselves…)
The idea that it should be possible to use a mind-altering drug with ease is crazy. It is entirely normal to become addicted to an addictive substance. I wrote more about this here.
3. People are labelled when they stop drinking
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 stopped using a highly addictive, dangerous substance.
When I was drinking and doing shots until the early hours – or necking wine at home, alone – no one asked if I was an alcoholic. Yet as soon as I decided that I didn’t want to do that any more, people started making concerned faces and mentioning the A word!
4. Alcohol is glamorised whilst other drugs are demonised
Compare the “just say no” anti-drug campaigns of the 80s with the cutesy, wine o’clock memes that are shared on Facebook. Or the glittery, prosecco-themed gifts you find in shops. The differences hardly need spelling out.
It’s no wonder so many of us fall into the alcohol trap – booze is so normalised. What if the media reported on alcohol with the same sense of drama they use for other drugs? This interesting article imagined just that.
5. Alcohol is marketed as self-care
Can you imagine being encouraged to have a cosy night in with a face mask and a huge pack of cigarettes? No?! Me neither. And yet we regularly see alcohol promoted as a form of self care; a way of relaxing and supposedly looking after yourself.
Real self care is about preserving or improving your health and well being. Alcohol – a cancer causing, mind-bending poison that makes you ill – simply cannot do that. But it suits the alcohol industry to promote this drug as a form of self care.
6. Wine and beer is sold next to bread and cheese
In the UK, it is illegal to display tobacco products. We keep them out of sight and sell them in packets with grotesque warnings on them. However alcohol – which causes 1 in 20 deaths worldwide – is on display for everyone to see.
My local supermarket nearly always has some kind of alcohol product stacked near the entrance, on special offer. The takeaway message seems to be that alcohol is a) completely normal and b) an essential item.
7. There’s a separate language for booze
We talk about getting ‘high’ on drugs but ‘drunk’ on alcohol… although if we can help it, we don’t even use the word drunk. Instead we say things like ‘tipsy’, ‘merry’ and ‘woozy’.
Drug addicts need a ‘fix’ yet drinkers just need a ‘drink’. Drug users go into withdrawal, whereas drinkers are ‘hungover’. It’s all just another way of normalising alcohol and minimising the harms.
8. We try hard to pretend there are health benefits
Trying to claim that red wine is good for you is a bit like trying to say milk chocolate is healthy because it has calcium in it. We all know that if you really care about getting enough calcium, you’ll have a glass of milk instead!
According to UK government guidance, “there is no justification for drinking for health reasons.”
9. We have special days dedicated to alcohol
I have one of those calendars that tells you what all those weird, made-up, marketing days are. You know what I mean: World Cocktail Day, National Drink Wine Day, World Beer Day… I could go on.
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 social media. Can you imagine any other drug having a special day named after it?!