When you first enter the doors of my college’s most popular bar, you’re invited by an unapologetic sign:
“Drink like a champion today.”
Huh? What does it mean to drink like a ‘champion’? How does drinking make me a champion?
Yet mindless drinking was the norm for our college weekends- and it felt like the same tape on repeat:
Pre-game at 9, walk and chug at 9:30, wait in line for 30 minutes (but it’s okay, we’re already drunk!)
Finally you make it into the bar. Crowded inch-by-inch you push to the counter competing against 50 other card-wavers for a $2 dirty sprite
By 10:30pm you get your bottom-shelf drink and regroup with your friends. And what do we do? Just stand there. It’s usually too crowded to dance, and too loud to socialize. We hangout in our circle, yell into each other’s ears, and sip our drinks
A few hours pass, we collectively get exhausted and decide it’s time to stumble back home
From then on is my favorite part of the night: We crowd into one of our rooms, blast our favorite jams, and actually talk as we regain our voices.
Weekend after weekend, why did we continue to follow the same recipe of over-drinking and going out?
The answer: I don’t think any of us knew why. We were told that’s what champions do, right??
“It’s just college, we’re going crazy.” We continued to give excuses as we normalized excessive drinking as a right of passage.
Except even after college, we still continue to give ourselves endless amounts of excuses: celebrations, parties, meetups, anniversaries, even making it past 5pm. We’ve built drinking into almost every damn aspect of our lives outside of work.
The problem I want to address in this essay isn’t about drinking itself though. What bothers me instead is the lack of intentions and our forced drinking culture.
We say we ‘drink to drink’ and ‘drink to forget’ without ever questioning the why.
In reality, it’s a misused drug and we should start having honest conversations around what drives us to drink so much, and if there are better alternatives.
Whether it’s to feel energized, to boost confidence, to relax, or even to cope, everyone has slightly different intentions behind drinking.
For me (and many others), drinking is a means to becoming more confident and sociable. In low doses it really helps me loosen up and step out of my comfort zone. But after a drink or two I really don’t see much additional benefit. If anything, it just takes me out of the present.
Except it’s hard to just have a drink or two. Let alone not drink at all.
And that’s where the intentions are lost. It becomes more about drinking because it’s the norm rather than drinking because we truly want to.
Forced drinking culture
Drinking is a staple to how we socialize- And to not drink can put you at a serious disadvantage (especially in New York City).
Let alone how readily available alcohol is everywhere, it’s also a forced sign of camaraderie:
“Oh come on, just have one drink with us”
“I have so much to do tomorrow, but you’re here so let's get drinks”
It’s as if not taking the glass is disrespectful.. as if you need to self-sabotage yourself to really connect with others.
Story time: During one of the last weekends of college at my friend’s birthday party my friends ended up convincing me to keep up with their drinking, and even surpass them. The next morning they opened up a conversation congratulating me for drinking so much. It didn’t hit me until a few days later, but how was anything I did noteworthy? I barely remember one of my closest college friend’s birthday parties.
Why do we push drinking onto one another so much?
It’s how we’ve been taught to socialize
For a lot of people, drinking is how we learn to open up and connect with others.
We use alcohol as a social excuse to step out of our shells.
Take asking someone out at a bar. It’s a lot easier if you and the other person are both drinking rather than one being sober.
We’re just more comfortable talking to people mutually under the influence rather than as ourselves.
I’m always the one haggled at pre-games for barely drinking. But I’ve started to realize that it’s probably not for my sake, but it makes them more comfortable and open having everyone else at their ‘level’.
And that’s a sad truth- culturally we are just not that open or confident of people while sober (or with sober people).
We therefore encourage others to drink with us (oftentimes more than needed) to feel this level of comfortability. But that doesn’t mean that drinking makes us any closer.
It’s actually a lot less of an authentic way to form relationships because it’s ‘easier’ and more surface level.
In reality, it’s shown that you build much deeper relationships while sober (or in small doses). It doesn’t come as naturally and takes effort, but it’s a much more authentic version of yourself.
It’s not to say that there’s no benefit to a drink or two. In low doses, alcohol can definitely be helpful to clearing the mind if you’re stressed or nervous.
The problem is our culture doesn’t incentivize responsible drinking, or even choosing how much you want to personally drink. More is always better, it’s about drinking like a “champion”.
Being honest about drinking
Alcohol is a drug, yet we culturally refuse to accept it as one. But similar to any other drug, alcohol affects everyone differently.
For most people, alcohol might be genuinely helpful from time-to-time, and it certainly is for me sometimes. For others, however, it might not be as necessary (or even harmful).
If we want to stop the cycle of our forced drinking culture, we need to start encouraging people to make their own decisions around whether they want to drink or not. And better yet, don’t make social events always revolve around drinking.
Alcohol after all is supposed to enhance your experience, not be your experience.
It’s hard to escape alcohol in our culture, but it’s recognizing that there shouldn’t be any guilt or judgment for choosing not to drink.
If you want to get to know someone, I always recommend asking to go out for coffee, not drinks. I like to think of getting to know someone without alcohol as training to be more open and true to yourself.
This was the hardest essay for me to write so far, and that’s probably because my opinions are so new and not fully formed. I put a lot of blame on our ‘culture’ for excessive drinking, but in reality the alcohol industry is to blame. It’s worth looking into how much lobbying and marketing Big Alcohol does to normalize and make drinking a core part of our culture. For now I’m choosing not to drink, but overtime I’m sure that my perspective will change and so might my habits.