A National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported in 2019 that 85.6 percent of American adults drank alcohol at least once in their lives. Drinking culture in the United States means that it’s a societal norm. Alcohol is a drug, despite its stronghold on American culture.
Since drinking is legal, not everyone realizes its danger. Nor do they realize how easy it is to go from the occasional drink to being an alcoholic. In order to understand the dangers of drinking, explore the USA’s complicated relationship with alcohol.
A Brief History Of Drinking Culture in the United States
First off, alcohol is a substance that follows humanity throughout history. Where man is, alcohol isn’t too far behind. The same can be said about the drinking culture in the USA. Centuries of American history prove alcohol has always played a major role in American society in one way or another.
Drinking Culture in Pre-Colonial America
Before the USA was even the USA, there was alcohol. A common myth is that early American settlers introduced Native Americans to alcohol. On the contrary, American Indians created their own alcoholic beverages through native fruits, vegetables and plants.
For example, in southeastern America, certain tribes would make alcohol out of fermented corn. Apaches in particular had a robust drinking culture. These fermented beverages were used in their spiritual ceremonies, social events, and much more.
Research indicates that the alcohol the Apaches drank was much weaker than the alcohol that was later introduced into American society. In fact, distilled spirits wrecked Native Americans, caused them to create the earliest version of sobriety circles.
Drinking Culture in Colonial America
It’s evident that colonial Americans liked to drink. Bars in Philadelphia currently attract visitors with beer recipes crafted by the founding fathers. In the 18th century, drinking culture was prominent. According to Journal Storage (JSTOR), the Sons of Liberty even met in a drinking tavern to plan how to overthrow the British government.
The digital library’s blog post also mentions that Americans during colonial times would drink double the rate of modern citizens. In other words, they drank around three and a half gallons of alcohol annually.
Adults and toddlers alike would drink rum and hard cider during this time period. Some with every meal. This led to rampant alcoholism, which gave way to a stricter governmental policy (aka the Temperance Movement).
Twentieth Century USA and Drinking Culture
Every American high schooler is familiar with The Great Gatsby. It’s a fictional tale of a very real period of time in the United States: Prohibition. This era of strict governmental crackdown against alcohol lasted from around 1920 to 1933. It happened because of the increasing awareness surrounding the dangers of alcohol.
Yet, it also happened in part to put pain on German-American brewers and conserve grain supposedly needed for the war. The government saw those who drank as a disposable population. For instance, the Coolidge administration would encourage manufacturers of industrial/commercial alcohol to poison it so drinkers would die. This didn’t last with America’s WW2 win, and hence, a gradual amnesia of the serious concerns surrounding drinking.
Drinking Culture in Modern America
Alcohol is such a staple in American culture that many citizens may not realize the USA has a bustling drinking culture. An aisle of alcohol sits parallel to the frozen food section. An entire liquor store is built into the local grocery at times. Americans have a choice between ladies’ nights, happy hours, and bottomless brunches.
Alcoholic beverages have subtly slipped their way into every aspect of American culture. There are currently 57,625 bars and nightclubs in the USA. This doesn’t include all of the restaurants and facilities that serve alcohol.
Times when drinking culture has made an appearance in top songs:
- “Buy U A Drank (Shawty Snappin’)” – T-Pain and Yung Joc
- “Shots” – LMFAO featuring Lil Jon
- “Rehab” – Amy Winehouse
- “Tik Tok” – Ke$ha
- “Swimming Pools (Drank)” – Kendrick Lamar
- “Red Solo Cup” – Toby Keith
- “Have a Drink on Me” – AC/DC
- “Party For Me” – Jhené Aiko featuring Ty Dolla $ign
Songs, books, and movies feature alcohol in a mainstream way today. Countless forms of media not only feature alcohol but romanticize and glorify it too. Movies like The Hangover and Project X play off the dangers of drinking in a comical sense.
The worst that can happen when the people in these films are abusing alcohol is a good laugh. This only perpetuates drinking culture without making people aware of the statistics behind alcohol abuse.
When adults say they don’t drink nowadays they’re bombarded with a questionnaire. It’s considered a social faux pas to not drink in today’s culture. It’s almost as if people wonder to themselves, where would people meet up to have fun if not parties and bars?
Drinking culture has snatched the lives of many without society batting an eye. COVID-19 has changed the landscape of drinking culture, but it remains in a different form.
How Has COVID-19 Impacted Drinking Culture?
Americans were slow to react to the dangers of the 2020 pandemic. Since January, there have been 16,756,581 million cases of the novel virus and 306,427 deaths.
Thousands are dying every day, yet many clubs and bars remain open throughout the United States. Of course, the thought of a painful, lonely death has stopped many Americans from going out. Hence, America’s drinking culture has shifted, but not disappeared.
Happy hours and trivia nights are now hosted online. Booze/food delivery apps were popular before but are now increasingly popular.
Some of the most popular booze/food delivery apps today include:
- Uber Eats (in certain areas)
Due to such booze/food delivery apps and the current pandemic, many bars and clubs have closed their doors permanently. Yet, the real victims of COVID-19 are people that struggle with an alcohol use disorder (AUD). The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) recently hosted a webinar about how COVID-19 impacts alcohol use. In it, they state that those suffering from AUD face a whole new set of problems.
Addiction treatment centers close their doors to those who are infected with COVID-19. The addiction treatment centers whose doors are open during the pandemic have safety protocols and limited capability.
Another factor in the way people are drinking in America today is the countless people that are left at home depressed with nothing to do due to losing their jobs. In fact, 20.6 million Americans have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. How can these people afford to seek treatment at an addiction recovery facility with financial strain? This in tandem with the USA’s already out of control drinking culture has made it especially difficult for people with AUD.
How Drinking Culture Affects American Youth
Moving on, it should come as no shock that young Americans suffer from alcoholism. Drinking culture shows the fun side of drinking in every form of media without truly showing its pitfalls. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), there were around 10 million underage Americans who drank alcohol. From this group, 2 million were heavy drinkers, while 6.5 million were binge drinkers.
Excessive drinking is dangerous on its own. Yet, when a child, teenager, or adolescent drinks, it can damage their brain permanently. As an example, the Department of Health in Western Australia notes that a child’s brain continues to develop until their early twenties. Since alcohol is a depressant, drinking before then can negatively impact cognitive abilities.
SAMHSA cites other ways that drinking culture affects American youth:
- Underage binge drinkers are more likely to use drugs
- Young adults that drink underage are known to get bad grades
- Thousands of homicides and 949,400 crimes were because of underage drinking
- Underage drinkers are more at risk to have unprotected sex
- Underage drinking increases the youth’s chances of acquiring mood and anxiety disorders
- Lowered inhibition causes underaged drinkers to make risky decisions in general
Underage drinking needs to be more than the punchline of a joke. America’s youth suffers while the media profits from drinking culture. More so, underage drinking affects every American youth no matter their race or ethnicity. Education about underage drinking helps but doesn’t eliminate the risk from lurking in the background.
Drinking Culture Hurts Americans Overall
Young Americans aren’t the only ones who suffer from the USA’s romance with alcohol. The entire population of America faces the risk of an AUD. Over a quarter of the American adult population reported binge drinking in the month the NSDUH went out. According to the CDC, binge drinking is when a man has about five drinks in two hours. For women, it’s when they drink around four drinks or more in the same time frame.
Binge drinking is preventable but normalized in society. Unfortunately, it makes drinkers more susceptible to death. In fact, around 95,000 Americans die from an alcohol-related cause every single year. That means that almost a hundred thousand Americans died preventable deaths in part due to drinking culture.
It’s apparent that change needs to happen for people to understand the dangers of alcohol. Of course, a return to prohibition and the temperance movement is unlikely. Alcohol isn’t inherently dangerous, but a lack of education behind it causes people to drink dangerously.
Florida Center for Recovery Cuts Addicts Off From Drinking Culture
It’s tough to stop drinking when it’s everywhere. It appears in YouTube ads, blogs, and even when you’re just browsing UberEats. Don’t blame yourself for not kicking an alcohol addiction. Blame America’s drinking culture.
Florida Center for Recovery can’t solve the USA’s drinking problem, but we can cure yours. We offer personalized alcohol use disorder treatment in Fort Pierce, Florida. At our rehab facility, you’re cut off from negative influences and external factors that make an alcohol addiction worse. Contact us now if you or a loved one wants to find peace through sobriety by attending addiction treatment at Florida Center for Recovery.
Dr. Balta is the Medical Director at FCR for more than 10 years. Dr. Balta is Board Certified in Psychiatry and Addiction Medicine, Certified Psychoanalyst. As well, as having Psychiatric Training at The Albert Einstein School of Medicine Psychiatric Residency Program In New York City and Psychoanalytic Training at The William Alanson White Institute in New York City. While working in New York City, gained funding Grants for the treatment of Substance Abuse Disorders from SAMHSA , HRSA and the City of New York.