That was me a few days ago. I needed a card for a friend who's turning 50 and decided to go the humorous route. There I stood in front of a display of cards designed to tickle the funny-bone and all I felt was sad.
One card after another celebrated the use of alcohol, more specifically, the reckless use of alcohol:
"I'm outdoorsy, meaning I like getting drunk on patios"
"You deserve an alcoholiday"
"Something about today wants me to be hungover tomorrow"
And it doesn’t end with greeting cards.
Wine lists now dwarf menus. Cocktails are having a moment. As is whiskey. And craft beer. No wedding would be complete without a signature drink that “says something” about the bride and groom. Time for some corporate team-building? Forget rock-climbing, let’s go for a pub crawl! Running to stay fit? Reward yourself for completing that grueling 5K with a beer garden at the finish line. There are plaques to hang in our kitchens, t-shirts, baseball caps and even baby clothes, all announcing our “drinking problem” to the world in a nudge-nudge, wink-wink kind of way.
I could go on.
No, really, I could.
But you get the idea.
Or do you?
If not, you’re not alone.
To be clear, I’m not against alcohol. I don’t advocate on behalf of abstinence (unless this is what my client has identified as their goal). I’m a pragmatist. Alcohol has been part of the human experience for millennia, prohibition didn’t work, and drinking in moderation is relatively harmless. My problem isn’t with alcohol per se, my concern is that we’re dancing around the elephant in the room: problematic drinking is on the rise and we don't know how to talk about it.
Maybe this is what’s really fueling the cultural obsession with all-things-alcohol (aside from the very powerful, very well-resourced alcohol lobby – fodder for a future blog). May-be the greeting cards and cheeky aprons and upscale wine tastings are a way for us to accomplish two things:
Normalize our relationship with alcohol. If we can dress it up, make it fun, make it mandatory, may-be we can side-step, indefinitely, all those annoying facts about safe drinking limits, links to cancer, diseased livers, blackouts, and car accidents. I mean, how bad can it be, really, when my infant looks so cute in that onesie?
Solidify the pact we’ve made with each other. I don’t have to question my drinking as long as I can look around the room and see co-workers, wedding guests, sorority sisters, aunts and uncles, community leaders, church members, book club pals, and pretty much everyone else in my orbit doing the same thing I’m doing.
It takes a lot of courage to initiate a conversation about a social construct as [seemingly] intransigent as alcohol, yet a 2015 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) revealed that 30% of drinkers in America* are troubled by their pattern of alcohol consumption. That’s about 70 million people. That's a conversation worth having.
So here's what I'm proposing: Let’s give the elephant a poke. Let’s figure out how to talk about alcohol in a way that doesn’t clear the room. Let’s be honest about what alcohol is, how it affects us, how it hurts us, and yes – how it helps us. Let’s not assume to know what needs to happen next (sobriety? moderation?) until we can talk honestly, intelligently, and compassionately about what’s happening right now.
This blog was written by Lianne MacGregor MA, Med, ACC. www.macgregorcoach.com
*According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 70.1% of Americans over the age of 18 report having consumed alcohol within the previous year.