Alcohol Culture in America

beer commercials

This country is soaked in booze. Drinking to excess is widely accepted in the US, even encouraged. This may not be true for daily use, but it’s certainly true for holidays, weekends, big sports games, nights out to eat, and backyard barbecues. Don’t forget concerts, weddings, graduation parties and birthday parties. Are you drinking at all of these events, maybe even buzzed or drunk? Where is the room for having a few drinks at home then? Social events almost always seem to involve alcohol.
It’s hard to escape this wide reach of alcohol in America. Sure, someone can enjoy a holiday or a sports game without booze, but the fact that drinking is accepted and/or encouraged for such events is inarguable.

beer commercialsNo evidence exists for the spirit of drunkenness that runs through America. There are no numbers to prove how alcohol is widely accepted by society. However, plenty of evidence exists to support these claims. Movies, songs, and TV shows all contribute to the glorification of booze. Alcohol advertising has reached outrageous levels. An overwhelming amount of establishments sell alcohol. Worst of all, high school and college students consume ridiculous amounts of alcohol, encouraging it all the while.

Let’s talk about some of that evidence, maybe see why America is dripping with alcohol, and maybe even come up with some ways to slow down.

Alcohol and Social Events

It’s very likely that if you are a drinker, alcohol will be involved in your social events, whether at home or in a giant stadium. This is called social drinking, and for many serves the purpose of relaxing a bit in order to communicate better. Social drinking is literally a part of our culture.

If you’re going to a restaurant, and not in a dry county, chances are they serve alcohol. Are you attending a house-warming party? You’ll likely be served alcohol. Heading to a concert? Find any one of the several beer-selling kiosks. You get the picture.

Alcohol and Entertainment

American entertainment and alcohol consumption are definitely friends. Popular media today promotes and encourages alcohol consumption. Let’s start with music, because we all love music! This article is being written on January 18th, 2017. Here are lyrical samples from three of the top five songs on today’s Billboard Hot 100:

  1. “Black Beatles” by Rae Sremmurd – This song is commonly used as background music for the popular craze known as the mannequin challenge. Some of the lyrics include: “Haters mad for whatever reason // Smoke in the air, binge drinkin’”
  1. “Starboy” by The Weeknd – Here is a hit song from one of America’s most popular artists. One of the lyrics is: “I switch up my cup // I kill any pain.” While alcohol is only briefly mentioned, the implication is that alcohol numbs.
  1. “Closer” by Chainsmokers & Halsey – Here is a hit song from two up-and-coming superstars in America pop music. The second line in the song? “I drink too much and that’s an issue.”

One is a hip-hop song, one is an R&B song, and one is a pop song. Other popular genres in American music include country and rock. Do you really need proof that country and rock artists glorify alcohol? Hank Williams died from alcohol in 1953, and Amy Winehouse died from alcohol in 2011. The times, they are not a-changing.

The movie scene isn’t too different. It’s not uncommon to see alcohol use (or abuse) in an American film. Lately, some of our most popular films are actually about partying with alcohol. Consider these titles: Beerfest, Neighbors, Project X, Superbad, Old School, 21 and Over, and especially The Hangover trilogy, an immensely popular trio of movies about grown men getting absolutely hammered.

How about television? One of the most popular shows of all time was Cheers, centralized around a bar and its regulars. Two and a Half Men was another incredibly popular TV show, and much more recent. It starred Charlie Sheen as basically himself, a drunken fool whose intoxicated lifestyle is glorified. Syndicated episodes still play often. Reality TV is even worse regarding alcohol acceptance. A tiny sample of the reality shows about alcohol: Moonshiners, Booze Traveler, and The United States of Drinking.

Alcohol and Advertising

Ah, beloved beer commercial, how we love thee. If you are 21 or older, you most likely remember the ‘Whassup?’ commercials for Budweiser. The ads were outrageously popular, taking over America for a short while, and even wound up in the advertising hall of fame. Coming full circle for a moment, the commercial first aired during Monday Night Football.

There are many others. Do you like The Most Interesting Man in the World commercials? They are for Dos Equis beer. Have you laughed at Ken Jeong in a Miller Lite commercial? Remember the humanized bear from Labatt Blue ads? The point is that not only are beer commercials prevalent, they are made to be funny. Comedy usually creates a good, positive mood. Doesn’t this mean beer companies want viewers to associate alcohol with being happy? They definitely want something…

The alcohol industry spends $2 billion every year on alcohol advertising, as reported by the American Public Health Association (APHA). Apparently, the ads are working.

In 2007, Boston Medical Center performed a study to determine how much alcohol advertising affects alcohol purchasing. The results, summed up in the following graph, are staggering.

Alcohol Advertising vs Alcohol Purchasing

Worse yet, although the industry claims to not appeal to children, that’s not the case at all. According to the APHA, “…research documents that cigarette and alcohol advertising and promotional campaigns are especially appealing and attractive to teenagers and children.

“Both the tobacco and alcohol industries rely heavily on images in print, broadcast, and point-of-purchase campaigns that link their products with success, social acceptance, sexuality, friendship, youth, attractiveness, and physical vigor. Such images often have a significant impact on impressionable teens who are grappling with these issues.”

It seems even the country agrees. The APHA reports that 73% of people believe alcohol ads to be at least partly responsible for underage drinking

Alcohol’s Availability

As discussed, you can buy alcohol almost anywhere. With the exception of five dry states, alcohol is readily available all over America. Something strange happens in areas with high concentrations of booze-selling stores. Positive attitudes toward drinking increase 15%, and consumption increases 11%, according to Alcohol Policy MD. Making alcohol more available leads to more drinking. What a hoot!

Drinking can be expensive, but America makes sure even the light-walleted can have some alcohol. “Studies have shown that the lower the price of alcohol, the more people will drink. Drink price specials, kegs, and other sources of low-priced alcohol encourage binge drinking and intoxication,” also according to Alcohol Policy MD.

Make it cheap, make it available, make more alcoholics.

Only five US states deny any and all alcohol sales: Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Maryland. Five other states only sell beer, and only beer with low alcohol content: Minnesota, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Utah. The remaining forty US states at least sell all types of beer. Consider this graphic, provided by the Washington Post:

Buying Booze at The Grocery Store

The majority of America is free to drink alcohol almost whatever it wants, and buy alcohol almost wherever it wants. The ‘notes’ section below the picture says it all.

Alcohol and Students

Nobody in high school or college drinks, right? Those times in an American’s life are sober and dry, correct? You’re insane if you answered yes. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) wrote the following in an article on the psychological influences of alcohol:

“In North America and many other industrialized societies, binge or excessive drinking during emerging adulthood is condoned, and perhaps even encouraged, particularly for those attending college.” The article goes on:

“Some argue that the college campus environment itself encourages heavy drinking. Alcohol use is present at most college social functions, and many students view college as a place to drink excessively. Students experience greater exposure to drinking and encounter higher levels of peer drinking and positive attitudes toward alcohol as they transition from high school to college.”

Okay, enough quotes about it, perfect as they are. We all know that students drink to excess. Beer pong and flip-cup are two among several popular high school and college ‘sports’ that involve binge drinking. Yours truly knew several people in high school who were already full blown alcoholics. College was worse.

It’s really no joke. One-third of high school students drink regularly, and nearly 20% of them are binge drinking. More than 4,300 high-schoolers die from alcohol abuse every year. Not to mention, drinking regularly by age 15 (or younger) increases the chances of being alcohol-dependent by six times. The heaviest fact of all is that 90% of adult alcoholics began drinking while underage.

Regarding college students, 60% of them drink regularly, with 40% of them binge drinking. This means that from 12th grade to freshman year at college, drinking doubles! Plus, a quarter of college students suffer academic consequences as a result of alcohol use. Let’s not forget the nearly 2,000 college students who die from alcohol each year. The reason this statistic is lower for college students than for high-schoolers is most likely increases in tolerance.

Put the Drink Down, America!

Really, the battle against alcohol abuse starts with the individual. Simply not ordering a beer with dinner might be where sobriety starts. However, serious actions need to be taken on a governmental level, as well as on a societal level.

We already know full well that American society encourages drinking. Booze is at the restaurant, at the grocery store, at the convenience store, at the bowling alley, at the golf course, at the concert, at the sporting event, at the high school, at the college, at the wedding, at the party, at the barbecue, and it’s in your home liquor cabinet. It’s being advertised on your television, in your movies, and in your music.

You’re not going to be able to live a life in this country without being exposed to alcohol. People will abuse alcohol as long as it’s readily available and legal. However, here’s a list of ideas, both societal and governmental, that could help us put the drinks down:

  • Increase training to bartenders and store staff regarding alcohol safety
  • Get rid of drink specials and minimal drink-pricing at bars/restaurants
  • Cut back or even get rid of the sale of alcohol at public events
  • Reduce advertising for alcohol
  • Tighten-up the laws that govern responsible drinking
  • Make drunk-driving laws (and other alcohol-related laws) more strict
  • Crack down on underage drinking, any way possible

In Conclusion

There’s not much left to say, other than to ask you the reader to actually be responsible if and when you consume alcohol. Maybe as a country we need to try and be able to get through a concert or a wedding without being drunk. Also, peer pressure isn’t just for kids. Plenty of times, adults pressure other adults into drinking, especially at work events and sporting events. This needs to stop.

It’s almost as if we forget alcohol is a drug. I thought drugs were bad? Alcohol literally kills almost 90,000 Americans every year. The deaths indirectly caused by alcohol far exceed that number. We need to put our bottles down, and maybe start to realize how much damage alcohol actually causes.

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Medically Reviewed By:

Robert Gerchalk

Robert is our health care professional reviewer of this website. He worked for many years in mental health and substance abuse facilities in Florida, as well as in home health (medical and psychiatric), and took care of people with medical and addictions problems at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He has a nursing and business/technology degrees from The Johns Hopkins University.

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