Last Updated on May 24, 2021
Alcohol is one of the most commonly used substances in the United States. In fact, according to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 85.6 percent of adults over 18 have drunk alcohol at least once in their lifetime1.
Considering that alcohol isn’t necessarily safer than other substances, and can even be very addictive, why does it feel so normal to so many? And particularly among youth, why is drinking considered cool?
Since the production of alcohol goes back thousands of years, drinking may simply be ingrained in human civilization2. But there are a number of social factors that keep us raising those glasses, even when the consequences aren’t actually so glamorous.
Why Is Drinking So Socially Acceptable?
As an intoxicating substance, why is alcohol considered so acceptable where, for example, smoking marijuana may not be? Here are three major reasons:
1. Alcohol is linked with celebration
From champagne toasts at a wedding to festive holiday drinks, alcohol has found a way into many of our celebratory rituals. People often associate opening a bottle with good times, success, and living well.
2. Media portrays drinking in a positive light
Television depicts drinking as a normal part of social interactions, alcohol advertising is widespread, and many people on social media proudly post their drinking sprees. This ubiquity, coupled with an overall positive message, encourages people to view drinking as a normal thing.
3. Alcohol is often present at social events
Whether gathering with friends in the park for a picnic or meeting old buddies at a bar, beer, wine, and mixed drinks are a common social lubricant. Drinking is generally considered a good way to unwind, and many take it for granted that going out with friends involves a drink or two.
Why Do Adolescents Think Drinking Is Cool?
The above factors may explain why alcohol is a staple of adult life for a lot of individuals. But why do so many people under the legal drinking age aspire to consume beer, wine, or liquor? Why do teenagers drink alcohol?
1. It’s an act of rebellion
Pushing back against authority is a common part of being a teenager. Since they’re often told to avoid drinking, some adolescents do it to prove their independence to themselves or others.
2. Their peers influence them to think drinking is cool
On the flipside, teenage drinking can also be a sign of conformity. Peer pressure is a major factor in drinking, from adolescence into adulthood3. If everyone else is doing it, a person can feel left out if they skip the alcohol.
3. They’re curious
As mentioned above, alcohol is ubiquitous in our culture. As teens approach adulthood, they may simply want to know what all the fuss is about.
4. It has a pleasurable effect
Just like in adults, alcohol increases the level of dopamine in the teenage brain4. Once a teenager has experienced this, they may want to repeat that positive feeling—even if it makes them feel bad afterwards. They may think something that makes them feel that good is automatically “cool.”
5. It boosts confidence
Social anxiety is common during adolescence. Alcohol may make it easier for that teenage boy to approach his crush, and vice versa. Also, if a teen makes an embarrassing social misstep at a party, it’s easier to shrug it off if they can say they were drunk.
6. Media and advertising
Once again, alcohol is pervasive on television, social media, and streaming services. Teens are often trying to figure out what “normal” is in adult culture, and adapt to it. They often receive the message, loud and clear, that drinking alcohol is normal and desirable, which influences their alcohol use5.
Is Drinking Really Cool?
All in all, having the occasional beer isn’t especially harmful, and drinking alcohol can definitely feel pleasurable. But it can also cause a range of embarrassing behaviors, regrettable decisions, and a wicked hangover. Alcohol is also highly addictive, and can lead to serious long-term health problems.
In fact, more and more people are questioning the role of alcohol in their lives. The sober curious movement of the past few years has gotten particular attention. A variety of alcohol-free social options, including “sober bars” serving decadent mocktails, have been popping up in major cities. And many people have been quitting drinking just because they don’t like how it feels.
In other words, quitting or cutting back doesn’t have the same social stigma that it used to, and there are many “cool” things to do that don’t involve alcohol. There’s never been a better time to go alcohol-free.
That said, quitting alcohol isn’t always as simple as deciding it’s no longer cool. If you would like to drink less, but are struggling to reduce your consumption, there are new, online options that can make it easier than before. Learn more about how an app on your phone may be able to help you quit.