Why do you drink alcohol?

Here’s a theory: there are only two reasons a person drinks alcohol:

  1. they are an alcoholic
  2. to conform

We drink because we have a drinking problem, or we drink to fit in.

There might be another option, like “to relax”. Except there isn’t. I submit that any other explanation for drinking actually fits, if we are honest, in one of the above two reasons.  If the theory is correct, we should be able to take any person and any situation, and, upon examination, it would prove the theory.

It is important to note that there is nothing wrong with drinking any more than there is anything wrong with other common ways in which we conform. “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” (Shakespeare, of course.) But we ought to know why we do what we do; we ought to know when we are succumbing to pressure to conform.

I theorize that we drink for only one of two reasons, and one of those is conformity. I submit that for every situation, there is a specific expectation for drinking alcohol. Think of any situation where people drink, or think of the situations wherein you drink, and you can find a common expectation for drinking alcohol.

For example:

  • Tough guys drink beer, so the guy drinks beer when with other guys.
  • Hot girls do beer bongs, so the girl who needs attention/affection does beer bongs at parties.
  • “Party” = drunkenness, so people drink at gathering, and alcohol plays a huge part of all their gatherings.
  • Grownups drink in the evening, so people who want to seem grownup or fit in with grownups drink in the evenings.
  • Sophisticated people like red wine, so I better drink red wine.
  • Of course, alcoholism could also explain any senario.

Man-made constructs, like the “rules” for drinking, are more often than not, complex and complete. Consider religion, myths, language, education. All are man-made, and all are complex and complete. So it is with our “rules” for what and when to drink. There is an expectation to drink unique to every situation.

Three things are at work here. The most important one, the all-important one, is that we humans are subject to constant, constant, constant pressure to conform. So much so and so often that we seldom are aware of it—like a fish unaware of water.

The second thing at work is alcohol itself. It is addictive, restricted and therefore desired, and universal.

The third thing at work is that we humans naturally seek structures and systems and create them everywhere (languages, religions, organizations, etc). Even without intending to. Combine the powerful pressure to conform with a behavior that is common and yet allows infinite variation, and you get exactly what we have: more-than-constant pressure (pressure that has become part of our environment) to drink in any situation, at any age.

I need a drink now. Just to relax, of course.

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2 comments

  1. People need be neither alcoholics nor conformists to enjoy alcohol’s naturally attractive intoxicating effect. Unlike knotted ties and handshakes, which may be attributed to conformity or custom since neither are obvious or intrinsically beneficial, people drink alcohol because they like what alcohol gives them. They need no other reason.

    Drinking alcohol doesn’t make you an alcoholic because you can choose not to drink it, and it doesn’t make you a conformist because you’re drinking it for its intrinsic benefit rather than to conform. In this regard, you might choose to drink alcohol for the same reason you’d choose to take a nice afternoon walk. You can choose not to take that walk and you don’t walk because others do so—you walk because you enjoy it. Same with alcohol.

    1. John, I love your thoughts on this. Thank you for sharing. Your thoughts are most helpful to me and my thinking. I wonder if, even though there is an intrinsic benefit, my theory holds true? Maybe I am stretching too far. But every drinking scenario I can think of can fit (if I push hard enough) into one of the two reasons I offered. I do know a good number of people who drink to relax/unwind, so maybe that is the third reason. Maybe it goes much deeper than that, though. Maybe I dare not chase this to the end, for I would end up lost in the human heart and its fathomless need for peace.

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