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  • Hannah Whitley, LCSW

Navigating Sobriety in a Culture of Drinking


In today’s society, it is no secret that alcohol and drinking are a pervasive part of our culture. From advertisements, to social gatherings, to holidays and traditions, alcohol and drinking seem to play a central role in so many aspects of our culture today. So, what does this mean for those wanting to get sober or maintain their sobriety? Kimberly Bryan, a licensed clinical social worker at Mind and Body, who specializes in treating substance use, shares with us her thoughts on navigating sobriety in today's culture of drinking. According to Kimberly, “Today’s culture around drinking makes for a tough environment to obtain and maintain sobriety. Advertisements and media often portray drinking as the key to having fun or as social lubricant needed to connect with others. This can be so invalidating and discouraging to folks that have had the very opposite experience with alcohol and are making efforts to change their relationship with drinking.”


Who is impacted?

In Kimberly’s work as a clinician treating those struggling with substance use, she has found that no one is immune to the impacts of drinking culture. She states, “Drinking culture impacts just about all of us. Across so many intersectionalities of the human experience, drinking has become the accepted ‘norm’. We are all affected by the daily stresses of living in an ever changing world and alcohol has become one of our favorite coping tools, albeit not always the most helpful tool for us to use.” Drinking culture seems to impact people from nearly all walks of life. From work place happy hours, to bottomless mimosa brunches, to the normalized binge drinking present on college campuses, we can all find ourselves in situations where drinking plays a central role. This can make it easy for alcohol to become our default way of cutting loose and managing stress. With drinking being such a normal part of our day to day life, it’s no wonder that for some folks it can be a slippery slope into alcohol dependency.


Drinking cultures impact on getting help

So what does this normalization of drinking mean for those in recovery from substance use, or those wondering if they might have a problem with alcohol? According to Kimberly, drinking culture is an added challenge. She states, “When drinking and drinking to excess are so normalized, coming to terms that you may struggle with alcohol can feel shameful and isolating. Taking steps to make changes and get help can feel embarrassing and even scary. Struggling with alcohol misuse is incredibly common in our society and having people in your corner who will support you and respect your boundaries is so important.” Although challenging, it is not impossible to take the steps needed for recovery. But, it can be helpful to know that you’re not alone. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 29.5 million people ages 12 and up experienced an Alcohol Use Disorder in the past year. By bringing awareness to the negative impacts of drinking culture, we can reduce shame for those who are struggling with alcohol misuse or those choosing sobriety.


Tips to Navigate Sobriety

For those in treatment and those wanting to work toward and/or maintain their sobriety, what can they do to combat the impacts of drinking culture? According to Kimberly, “Get creative, seek out support, and give yourself grace! It can be fun to brainstorm ideas to connect with others that don’t center around drinking and having supportive people around you can help to keep you going when sobriety feels challenging. That being said, sobriety IS challenging, especially in today’s culture. Self-compassion is one of the keys to long term success, and the journey to sobriety is rarely linear.” A network of support can go a long way. In addition to working with a licensed professional who specializes in treating substance misuse, seek out support from friends, loved ones, support groups and others who will respect your boundaries around drinking, and show you compassion as you navigate the challenges of treatment and sobriety.


Free Resources that Can Help

If you or a loved one is struggling with Alcohol misuse, or is interested in exploring sobriety here are some resources that may help:

~12 questions to determine if AA is right for you: https://www.aa.org/self-assessment

~The local Alcoholics Anonymous Office: https://raleighaa.com/ or call 919-783-6144

~Al-Anon and Alateen provide support for loved ones of alcoholics: https://al-anon.org/

~Daily recovery quotes and readings: http://www.justfortodaymeditations.com/

~AUDIT Alcohol Screen Assessment that healthcare professionals utilize to screen for alcohol related problems: https://americanaddictioncenters.org/alcoholis.../assessment


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