9 Ways We Treat Alcohol Differently From Other Drugs

9 Ways We Treat Alcohol Differently From Other Drugs

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. 

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  1. Spot on!

    • Thanks Mary 🙂

  2. This is one of my favorite posts. And I love your blog (I will drop anything I’m doing and read it within minutes of release). First, this sentence: “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. ” is so so true and so so annoying! This is why I still haven’t told folks I don’t drink, even close friends (yeah, bet you wonder how close they are, haha) although I’m coming up a year sober in 4 weeks time. As for the health benefits of red wine, you can get the same benefits from eating grapes. And grapes are delicious, cheaper and don’t give you a headache even if you really eat a lot of them!

    • Congratulations on your year sober – that’s brilliant! It is really annoying when people aren’t supportive, but it says a lot about them and very little about you. I suspect some friends will surprise you however; they might react better than you think. Fingers crossed 🙂

  3. This is so true but alchohol has so far been ruining my life it makes you make poor choices and makes you become a person you dont want to be im gonna try not to drink today since i need to change for myself and family

    • Good luck Janet. I’m sure you can do it 🙂

      • Good luck Janet you are stronger than you know and remember when you make it that’s all you will ever have to do; one sober day. Yesterday’s history, tomorrow’s a mystery, today’s the present : enjoy the gift xx

    • Hi Janet. I’m Janet also and can so relate to you, I agree with all that you said. Three glasses a wine every night for 40 years is too much and sooooo unhealthy! I try to cut back but…….. Need to quit cold turkey!

  4. This is so true. If I posted on face book that I had two lines of coke last weekend, most people would be horrified. Yet, if I said I downed two bottles of wine, most would not bat an eyelid. In fact, many would probably reply “me too (smiley face)”.

    I am dreading St Paddy’s Day this year as it is on a weekend. I come from an Irish family, and it is safe to say, most of them like to have a drink, and St Patricks Day is a great excuse to go down the pub and drink a lot. I think I may be struck down with a mysterious virus on 17th March this year.

    (Disclaimer: I am aware that not all Irish people are heavy drinkers or drinkers at all. I am just commenting on my own family)

    • I think pulling a sickie is a good idea if you’re not comfortable with the questions you may get asked or pressure to drink. It won’t always be like this – it gets much, much easier. Good luck!

    • I love your disclaimer…..from an Irish gal.

  5. What a super article. I’m coming up to six months and all of this rings so true with me.

    There’s no looking back. A temporary lifestyle change has becocme the greatest thing I could have done!

    Thanks for the site keep up the good work!

    • Congratulations on your six months – it sounds as if it’s been life changing for you! 🙂

  6. It would be interesting if
    restaurant servers to flight attendants would say
    “Can I offer you a drug?”
    or “Would you like to see the drug list”

    • I’ll have a line of your finest cocaine please and 2 ecstasy pills for the lady…

  7. It all makes so much sense…….I just need to do it keep all this info coming tho and well done to you all x

  8. Hi kate,
    I have decided to give up wine for lent and start two days early – i.e. Today as Monday is always a good day to start. I have said I will give up alcohol completely (although wine is what I mostly drink anyway) but I have told myself I won’t drink any alcohol for the next ten days as I want to kick start some weight loss. Hoping I can stay strong!

    • * haven’t said!

    • Good luck Kate, I’m sure you’ll do it. My top tip is to think about what you’re looking for in alcohol at the moment (is it stress relief? Comfort? What?) and then start planning what you’re going to do instead. Look for alternative coping mechanisms and keep focused on what you’re gaining. It will be great! 🙂

      • Thanks for the tips. I have been reading your weekly blog for a while. I suspect I do drink too much – i.e. a bottle of wine about three times a week – mostly for stress relief, comfort and as a “treat” on account of the difficulties of being a single working mum. I would like to get out of that habit – hence the giving it up for lent!

  9. Thanks for this blog. I read your book and that is me. I am 33 days sober and counting. I have my first “test” dinner tonight with a group of old coworkers who are going to be shocked when I do not order an alcoholic drink. I’m nervous about it but have some of your tools in my pocket ready for their questions and hazing!!

  10. So true!! It’s amazing how some people cannot imagine how you can function without alcohol. Someone with whom I used to a lot recent asked me if I didn’t miss a glass of wine with dinner. Nope, I don’t miss it at all. It has caused way too many problems, and I finally figured it out before it completely wrecked my life. Another great post, thanks Kate.

  11. Thanks Kate. Sharing this on AF Loud and Proud. I particularly want to tackle items 3 and 6 on the list. People say they manage to avoid the wine aisle and then get blindsided by bottles of the stuff next to the cheese, or even the children’s clothing. We need to be celebrating our ability to overcome addiction rather than defending ourselves against negative labelling. Catriona

  12. I wake up everyday thinking of getting my first drink. I usually have it within my first 30 minutes of being awake. It started with ptsd 6 years ago and hasn’t stopped. It’s ruining my life. It has already cost me more than I can afford, and I don’t mean just money. I’m afraid of were I am. Today I wont drink. I’m already stressed with the thought, but I’m tired of being lost.

  13. Totally agree with everything you’ve said here….


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