9 Ways We Treat Alcohol Differently From Other Drugs

9 Ways We Treat Alcohol Differently From Other Drugs

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?!

 

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33 Comments

  1. Totally agree, alcohol is treated like a bit of harmless fun and that makes it hard for people to quit. You think it’s not really that bad when it is. I took your course in January last year and am now one year sober, which I’m so proud of. We all need to have more honest conversations about this drug.

    Reply
    • Congratulations on your 1 year sober Sue! ❤️ I’m so pleased to hear that!

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    • They don’t get called “heroin-oholics” but instead they’re “drug addicts” or “junkies”.

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  2. I really needed to read this today, thank you. The contrasting taboos and marketing between alcohol and other drugs is staggeringly different. Imagine if that Facebook or Insta page for young mother’s groups featured them all holding up rose gold-colored cocaine straws instead of prosecco with the usual “Mommy’s Day Out!” lingo? People would be calling the police and child services. But if it’s a drink, they’re like, “Go, you! xoxox” I;m keeping that ludicrous image with me as a bolster.

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    • That is a great visual! You’re right – people wouldn’t stand for that. And yet no one bats an eyelid to all these ‘mommy juice’ references. Crazy.

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  3. Agree also. Alcohol is used as a marketing tool and asset on everything from baby clothes- ‘Mummy’s more fun now she’s drinking wine again,’ to mugs implying gin is preferable to a coffee break, to T shirts, PJs, tote bags and try buying birthday and Christmas merchandise without it.Try substituting the word ‘cocaine’ and see how acceptable it would be…..

    Reply
    • Totally agree. When you think about alcohol as a drug – and then think about the kind of messages on mugs, memes, tote bags etc – it’s all kinds of wrong.

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  4. It’s crazy when you see it all written down like this. One thing I would add is that with alcohol we often joke about drinking, joke about being hungover and joke about what we can’t remember like it’s totally normal. We never do that with other drugs!

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    • Yes! I used to think that the sign of a good night was not being able to remember it. Seems crazy now.

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  5. Yes! Such great, valid points. I wish this could get out into the mainstream media! Thank you for publishing!

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    • Thanks Collette 🙂

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  6. Hi Kate, I totally agree with everything you said, I am today 87 days AF and have just had the weekend from hell, I had a family party and was asked so many questions about why I wasn’t drinking it actually got me thinking why and my head is bursting with why can’t I have one or two or three just like everyone else…… because I’m a bad drunk that’s why, this has been the hardest time in my head questioning everything, I just left early… and one person said to me when I’m finished with this (not drinking) we’ll go out and get really drunk and have a great night….. I just smiled. I totally agree with everything you said above especially the part about the advertising and the saying, I was looking for a nice quote for the notice board in my office and everything I found was about gin night or Prosecco night….. life isn’t worth living if you don’t have these. I actually enjoyed some of the night because the music was really good but the best one ever was when I got up to leave and had my car keys in my hand my niece said to me you can’t drive Denise you’ve been drinking…. when I told her I wasn’t she said “oh I knew there was something wrong with you”. My head is a mess since, Christmas was easier on me.

    Reply
    • Sounds like a tough weekend Denise. Other people’s reactions to your sobriety are always about them, not you – so those comments are a reflection of how they’re feeling about their own relationship with alcohol, that’s all. Congratulations on your 87 days. Keep pushing on!

      Reply
  7. This is so interesting and so right on. I decided to do “dry January,” but really wanting to do “dry forever.” I’ve started reading so many wonderful blogs, books, listening to podcasts, etc. and just absorbing all the great information about living an alcohol free life. I am considering taking your course. There are so many to choose from so I need to investigate more and pick one that feels right to me. Thank you so much for all the great information you’re sharing and the wonderful encouragement to give up alcohol!

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  8. The point about alcohol being seen as “self-care” totally resonated with me. I haven’t been AF for long. However, I know I have been guilty of correlating glasses of wine with my “me time” which I interrupted as self care. I am now learning sitting alone with a bottle of wine is not self care. It is self destruction.

    Reply
  9. I love all of your blogs Kate, they’re so insightful and bring hope for me. However, I am at a crossroad. I’ve did 30days of sobriety when I turned 30 and went right back to alcohol afterwards, even though I felt great. Now at 32, I’m going on 1 year sober (feb marks 1 yr) after dozens of stays in the hospital for acute pancreatitis. I know how serious pancreatitis is, and I’m thankful my case was not worse. Yet, I can’t wait for my year to be done soon so I can get back to my red wine I love so much. I hate that I’ve been so successful with sobriety, yet I want to throw my progress away. I still feel like a “dry drunk” even after a long year. Do you have any advice?

    Reply
    • Hi Ashli, congratulations on your sobriety! I know how difficult it is to be sober and still missing alcohol so much. It sounds to me as if you feel there are a lot of pleasures – or benefits? – to be gained from drinking and that’s what you feel you’re missing out on. So you are in a constant state of deprivation? I totally get this. I created my online programme to help women quit drinking without feeling as if they were missing out. I think it could really help you. Here’s some more information about the class: https://thesoberschool.com/course/
      And make sure you watch a few videos from my graduates here! https://thesoberschool.com/reviews/

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  10. Hi Kate! I’m so happy I’ve found your website and insta. Thanks for spreading all things sobriety! It’s super encouraging to see other women living this sober life. It’s so fulfilling and has so much depth. I feel like I’ve gotten to sit with myself and to know my true authentic self through sobriety! Love your article. I shared it on my story on instagram! ~Liz

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    • Thanks Liz! Here’s to finding our true authentic selves 🙂

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  11. So here in NZ there is a special day to celebrate the beginning of summer (although usually the weather is still crap):
    “It claims Crate Day was started by [radio station personality, in 2010] and is “all about celebrating the first Saturday of summer in true kiwi style: by whacking some meat on the barbie, cranking up the tunes on the radio, playing some highly competitive backyard cricket, exchanging average-to-mediocre banter and, of course, sharing a crate with your mates”.
    And while some people do share their crate, historically, the point of the day was to finish all 12 crate bottles alone. A tradition many hold to.”
    FYI: a crate consists of 12 x 745 ml bottles of beer.
    This event is something I have come to dread, even before I quit drinking – my neighbours don’t need any excuse to get into a crate!
    Sadly, in true Kiwi binge-drinking style, this has become a day that the hospitals also dread, along with the police, as the parties have evolved into bigger events and more outrageous behaviour.
    Add to that the sponsorship of ‘O Week’ (universities’ Orientation week) is now by one of the country’s biggest beer brands. The culture of drinking at some of our universities has become the stuff of legends and is a drawcard for our young people to make those the destination institutions (ironically, one of them is our most prestigious medical school!)

    Reply
    • Wow – I’d never heard of Crate Day before. That sounds like a lot of pressure to drink … and drink and drink. I can well imagine it’s a nightmare for the emergency services.

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  12. Not much hope for insane boozing.

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  13. Hi Kate and Happy New Year! I want to tell all of you wonderful women out there that the process is long but so worth it. Kate, I am so glad I did your course 2+ years ago.. It has taken this long to get through all the feelings that try to get a lady off track. I had to wait it out, depression and all. My skin feels more normal than I have my whole life after really getting the truth about alcohol taught to me by you. I am 60 years old and I do wish all the young women out there and mothers realize that real life not veiled by an alcohol screen is so much sweeter. I read the definition of alcoholism in Wikipedia and through it last night, I saw more of what has been occuring and had to take the time to wait out in my life and body. Good luck to all wanting this true freedom…. Thank you Kate. You are an Angel to do this!

    Reply
    • Thank you Jean! I’m so pleased you stuck with this process – you sound so happy now. Many congratulations on your sobriety, and here’s to true freedom! 🙂

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  14. My friend introduced me to this site some months ago and I became interested in the concept of not just having a break from alcohol, but actually stopping completely. On December 2 last year, I woke up and just knew I was done with drinking. You’re right Kate, drinking alcohol had become so normalised in my life that it went hand and hand with 5 o’clock and getting dinner ready. Yet, never would I consider taking drugs. I mean, they’re really bad for you! Often I think to myself, imagine if I was drinking tonight, and I know exactly how it would pan out and how I would feel in the morning. After almost 2 months AF, my skin is healthier, my stomach fat is going and I feel so stable. Thank you Kate and thank you all you wonderful women for your helpful and inspiring comments. Vicki

    Reply
    • Congratulations on your 2 months Vicki, that’s fabulous. Keep going – the benefits keep on getting better and better! 🙂

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  15. Hi everyone. I’ve been following this blog for two years and finally jumped in! I’ve been af for 28 days. Now, for the first time, I realize why I drank. It helped with my anxiety. I had family visit me last week and I entertained them the entire time, while being sober. They drank the entire time. However, I woke up one morning with extreme jaw pain and realized that I’d been clenching my jaw during their visit!!! Now that I’m af, any advice on reducing anxiety? I’m so happy to be sober but this anxiety is killer. Thanks for the fabulous blog, Kate.

    Reply
    • Hi Anna – congratulations on your sobriety so far! Alcohol actually makes anxiety much, much worse, so the best thing to do is to stay alcohol free. More on this here: https://thesoberschool.com/overcome-social-anxiety/
      If you need any support with staying alcohol free, and finding new healthy coping mechanisms to deal with anxiety and stress, I’d be happy to work with you on this. Here are some details of my next class: https://thesoberschool.com/course/

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  16. This is a very interesting revelation! Thank you this post.

    For about 4 weird years of my life I had an addiction to a harder drug – primarily because of the recreational outings the with the crowd I was with. That addition went beyond recreation and I found myself dismissing society and seeking it out on any random time the urge came along. When it finally hit me the harm I was doing to myself physically and mentally, I was able to kick it cold turkey.

    Here I am a few years later realizing that I’m now a weekend alcoholic. It took a terrible, depressing Monday morning for me to understand what my problem was even though I should’ve realized the other signs such as blacking on a Friday or Saturday night. I typically try to avoid drinking on Sundays but I do I binge drink Friday night through Saturday. I usually don’t keep alcohol in my home but December and January, I found myself drinking at home Saturday night through Sunday because I was given gifts of booze for the holidays.

    I don’t crave booze. I don’t really enjoy being drunk. But on the weekends, when booze show up – office happy hours on Fridays, brunch, doing work in food halls with bars because a mimosa while coding on my laptop is a great idea, right – I can’t always say no. I says to myself “just have one or two”. But it often ends up 4 -6. Or beer will turn into hard liquor.

    Stopping drinking is going to be much harder than kicking the hard drug because it’s part of the fabric of my social life. I will have to be clever for this one.

    Reply

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