It’s Alcohol Awareness Week (15th-21st) this week and Alcohol Awareness Week is designed to help raise awareness about alcohol, which I plan to do. This year’s theme, according to Alcohol Change, is alcohol and relationships. Most of you know that alcohol can affect our friendships and loved ones through alcohol dependency and abuse. Many people also use alcohol to cope with the loneliness and isolation caused by the pandemic.
But I’m not here to talk about that aspect. This article is about our relationship with drinking as a means to socialise. People all over the world consume alcohol while socialising, but no one does it as well as us Brits. Therefore, this article will look at alcohol and relationships by discussing our need to socialise with alcohol.
Our Relationship With Alcohol
While researching for the alcohol and relationships theme of Alcohol Awareness Week 2021, I stumbled upon a question on Reddit that summed up the issue well. An American on the AskUK subreddit asked a question about Brits and our love for the pub, which highlighted Britain’s drinking problem. They asked:
Is “going to the pub” a real thing in the UK?
Is “going to the pub” a real thing in the UK? from AskUK
They asked this question because they’d seen that Brits in films and TV shows set in the UK seem to be constantly going to the pub. Which, they said, if someone was doing in the US, they’d been seen as an alcoholic. People of the UK were only too happy to tell them that yes, this is pretty much the reality of British people. For us, alcohol and relationships are synonymous. There is no one without the other. The replies to the question tell you everything you need to know about Britain’s relationship to alcohol and socialising.
Yeah will go pub at least 4 days a week, probs have about 4 or 5 pints on a weekday, maybe a few doubles and jagerbombs if the mood takes me, then double that on a Friday and Saturday. Its not alcoholism, its just being British
The pub is a place we can go well for pretty much any reason. Bored? Pub. Hungry? Pub. Football/sports on? Pub. Birthday? Pub. Celebration pub? Sunny? Pub. Just walking past the pub? Enter the pub? Thirsty? Pub. Just been on a walk? Pub.
For a lot of people, the Pub is just a social setting. Go there for dinner, coffee, drinks, catch up. I have friends that head to the pub a few times a week. When I worked in retail I was 18-21, I would go to the pub with my work friends after work a few times a week for dinner and a beer. We would finish late and our families had long eaten dinner by the time we finished.
Back when locals were a proper thing, many people would be in the pub every night!
I personally don’t visit pubs often anymore, but it is a very popular abs regular thing to do in the UK
People in the UK have a different relationship to alcohol than people in the US, it’s quite normal for us to “have a few” down the pub during the week, on several occasions. Whenever we socialise we usually pair it with alcohol, and the pub is the place that people often socialise
The comments go on and on like this with over 2,700 comments at the time of writing this article. Alcohol and relationships go together like a cold hand in glove in the UK. Brits just don’t seem to know how to socialise without alcohol being involved. Almost everything we do revolves around a pub in one shape or another. I know when I used to have people over before the pandemic, that would almost always involve alcohol. And if we meet up somewhere, it’d be a pub we’d meet at.
You don’t have to believe the many Brits on Reddit saying that our excessive drinking culture is normal for us, normal, but not healthy. Seaman and Ikegwuonu (2010) lengthy report on UK drinking, stated that it can be argued that the UK has always been characterised by excessive drinking.
The reality is, most Brits would be classified as being a problematic drinker. The majority of the co-workers when I worked at a substance abuse service would also fall into that category, as did I. The NHS states we shouldn’t regularly drink over 14 units of alcohol a week. But for a lot of us Brits, that’s pre-drinking before we ever go out at the weekend. But because we don’t drink every single day or need a drink in the morning, we don’t see it as a problem. Although we don’t seem to mind being a nation that’s dependent on alcohol, as long as we’re still able to function, it is very much a problem.
In my late teens and early twenties, I could part away most of a 70cl bottle of vodka as my pre-drink to going out. I’d then take drugs and continue to drink, and when the clubs would close, we’d have an after party. I think it was the heavy drinking that led to me developing IBS.
British culture is drinking.
It’s been normalised to socialise by partying and getting drunk with friends and associating that with having pleasurable experiences, having a laugh, dancing, and having a good time (Ander, Abrahamsson, Bergnehr, 2017). It’s a similar issue for our Nordic neighbours too.
But the problem seems to be, where else can you meet up in the UK if not a pub, if you don’t want to go for a meal and you want to be able to talk to each other?
Alcohol And Relationships: #StopSoberShaming
Until we can find a long-term solution to Britain’s drinking culture and provide other places to socialise, we can do something in the short-term. We can stop shaming people for not wanting to drink to get drunk or wanting to be sober, even when in a pub.
I was guilty of this is my younger years, but then I grew older, got a little bit wiser, and realised I should stop behaving like this. In the past I’ve convinced people into going ‘out out’ when they hadn’t planned to. I’ve also convinced people to drink when they hadn’t planned to drink or drink as much. Peer pressure sucks, and I used it without realising it to get people to drink, but I’m not the only one (Davies, Law, and Hennelly, 2018). To me, back then, there was no reason to go out unless you were going out to get drunk. A view shared by others too, making ‘drinking to get drunk’ a cultural norm (Seaman and Ikegwuonu, 2010).
Thankfully, I’m not like that anymore. I’m a hundred percent behind people’s choice not to drink, to only drink so much, or not to go ‘out out’. Recently, I’ve taken to drinking non-alcoholic beers when I’m just casually drinking. The availability of such drinks has got a lot better over the years, which makes drinking non-alcoholic beers a lot easier.
My partner is very good at making sure they don’t over drink, drinking water been between alcoholic drinks and when they feel a little too drunk. A behaviour a lot of us would do well to adopt.
Part of the problem seems to be that drinking is part of being a man (Brooks, 2008), a masculine leisure activity that led to the so-called ladette. The rise of the ladette installed a heavy drinking norm for Brits of all genders, not just the lads. For those of you unfamiliar with the term ladette, it means a woman who gets drunk, gets loud, acts cocky, and enjoys sports, like a “lad”. The 90s weren’t as enlightened as we’d of liked. Gender roles and stereotypes really need to disappear already. Still, it can be argued that it helped change how women could socialise.
If we can normalise being sober, we can change our cultural and social norms, and in doing that, we can influence how our children perceive alcohol and how we, as a society, utilise alcohol (Fry, 2011).
Alcohol And Relationships: Sober Socialising
Dry January was the brainchild of Alcohol Concern, who became Alcohol Change after Alcohol Concern and Alcohol Research UK merged. Such initiatives have caused temporary spells of abstinence to become a familiar feature of people’s drinking lives (Yeomans, 2019). So if we’re willing to give up drinking for the odd month here and there each year, then maybe we can adopt moderate drinking and socialising without alcohol as well.
According to Brown, Hill, Smith, Johansson, and Davies (2021), there is an increase in dance events that are alcohol free. Having more alcohol free spaces like this would provide people with opportunities to socialise without having to drink, which is great. However, such spaces wouldn’t be needed if we normalised not drinking in the drinking spaces that already exist.
Look, I don’t expect you to go sober the rest of your life; I know I still enjoy drinking. What I’m proposing is allowing people to be sober without pressuring them to stop. What I’m suggesting is finding ways to socialise whereby you don’t have to have alcohol involved every time. Because if we mix in some social gatherings where we don’t drink, it’ll help us all move towards moderate drinking (Conroy and de Visser, 2018), which us Brits really need.
As Miranda Larbi stated in the Metro, it’s easy being sober, it’s everyone else who makes it difficult, which makes people nervous about socialising while sober. When it comes to dancing in public, I can’t imagine being sober, but in other situations I’m fine being sober. You just need practice at dealing with the nervous until you’re comfortable doing it. It might happen the first time, or it could take a few tries, but it’ll happen. It often helps to learn to become comfortable saying no.
As always, leave your feedback in the comments section below. Also, feel free to share your experiences with socialising sober and peer pressure to drink, and how alcohol and relationships have worked for you in the comments section below as well. Don’t forget to bookmark my site and if you want to stay up-to-date with my blog, then sign up for my newsletter below. Alternatively, get push notifications for new articles by clicking the red bell icon in the bottom right corner.
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Unwanted Life readers.
Ander, B., Abrahamsson, A., & Bergnehr, D. (2017). ‘It is ok to be drunk, but not too drunk’: party socialising, drinking ideals, and learning trajectories in Swedish adolescent discourse on alcohol use. Journal of youth studies, 20(7), 841-854. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1080/13676261.2016.1273515 and https://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1063697/FULLTEXT01.pdf.
Brooks, O. (2008). Consuming alcohol in bars, pubs and clubs: a risky freedom for young women?. Annals of Leisure Research, 11(3-4), 331-350. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1080/11745398.2008.9686801 and https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Robert-Mcdonald-8/publication/232830305_Cheers_A_Means-End_Chain_Analysis_of_College_Students%27_Bar-Choice_Motivations/links/55e5c15008aec74dbe74d4f8/Cheers-A-Means-End-Chain-Analysis-of-College-Students-Bar-Choice-Motivations.pdf#page=71.
Brown, K., Hill, K. M., Smith, J., Johansson, M., & Davies, E. L. (2021). Acceptability of alcohol-free dance in place of traditional alcohol-focused events. Health Education Journal, 80(3), 300-312. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1177/0017896920973298 and http://www.open-access.bcu.ac.uk/10728/1/Acceptability%20of%20alcohol%20free%20dance_Accepted%20version.pdf.
Conroy, D., & de Visser, R. O. (2018). Benefits and drawbacks of social non‐drinking identified by British university students. Drug and alcohol review, 37, S89-S97. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1111/dar.12610 and https://eprints.bbk.ac.uk/id/eprint/22615/1/22615.pdf.
Davies, E. L., Law, C., & Hennelly, S. E. (2018). You have to be prepared to drink: Students’ views about reducing excessive alcohol consumption at university. Health Education. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1108/HE-04-2017-0020 and https://radar.brookes.ac.uk/radar/file/e761fda8-0e82-4339-b94f-6d5df7fb6289/1/fulltext.pdf.
Fry, M. L. (2011). Seeking the pleasure zone: understanding young adult’s intoxication culture. Australasian Marketing Journal, 19(1), 65-70. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ausmj.2010.11.009, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1441358210000923, https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2011-03194-011, https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Seeking-the-Pleasure-Zone%3A-Understanding-Young-Fry/181b49fe96839264f3e2e558a9e204edfca52307, and https://research-repository.griffith.edu.au/bitstream/handle/10072/36544/65137_1.pdf.
Seaman, P., & Ikegwuonu, T. (2010). Drinking to belong. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Retrieved from https://movendi.ngo/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/alcohol-young-adults-full.pdf.
Yeomans, H. (2019). New Year, New You: a qualitative study of Dry January, self-formation and positive regulation. Drugs: education, prevention and policy, 26(6), 460-468. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1080/09687637.2018.1534944 and https://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/137043/3/New%20Year%20New%20You%20DEPP%20%28Second%20Revision%20-%20not%20anon%20-%20for%20deposit%29.pdf.
70 thoughts on “Alcohol And Relationships: Do You Need Alcohol To Socialise?”
This is a great post! People can sometimes have such a bad relationship with alcohol. I feel it sad when people can only socialize when they had a drink or two in them.
It’s certainly an unhealthy habit to develop whereby you feel you can’t socialise without alcohol
This was a really interesting read. I have friends of mine living in the UK who would always say that drinking is part of the culture of the people there. It seems they are right. Alcohol gives me migraines and as I grow older they are even worse. Forever people would make fan of me for not wanting to drink. When I was younger I would drink just to avoid that. I do drink a bit but I do not need it to have a good time. I am glad that non alcoholic beers and drinks are available!
Drinking certainly isn’t worth it if you’re going to get migraines
Great article! Alcohol used to be fun for me but now I am past all that and hardly ever drink, although I love a glass of bubbly now and again. It ruined my close friend’s life, damaging their liver.
Sorry to hear about your friend. I hope they’re liver wasn’t damaged so badly that it can’t regenerate itself
Great article and one that get lots of people thinking. I’m currently teetotal and absolutely loving it!
And I just read why. Congratulations on your pregnancy
I grew up in England and I remember my dad going to the pub every night. Not having that was something he found difficult when we moved to Canada. I think it’s a shame when people feel pressured to drink. My 18-year-old daughter is a non-drinker and she is sometimes excluded from social events because of it.
I’m surprised being a non-drinker would still lead to exclusions from social events, I thought this generation were drinking less than the ones before them
That may be the case but a lot of teenagers are still drinking. In all honesty, my daughter isn’t too concerned about it. Those that would exclude her aren’t the kind of people she wants to hang out with anyway!
Great post! I didn’t know alcohol was so embedded into the British social culture. In college I used to party a lot and I couldn’t socialize outside of a trap house or party setting. Now I’ve learned how to function without the need to be drunk. It’s so scary when you can only rely on alcohol.
There’s almost nothing to replace going to the pub to socialise in the UK. I really hope that starts to change
This is such a fantastic post! I’ve recently been trying to reduce my alcohol consumption, but when I go out I find it is seen as “boring” to choose a soft drink, and that’s not okay. While I love a drink, it should be more normal to avoid alcohol so that you can go out and socialise without the hangover
Indeed. There is nothing wrong with not drinking alcohol or not wanting to drink to get drunk. People can still be fun without being drunk
I used to be part of the ladette culture. It wasn’t a night out unless we got hammered.
There was always this pressure to do so. If you don’t have a drink, you get funny looks and others wonder why you didn’t want a drink.
Thankfully, I don’t have much alcohol now. I don’t like feeling sick and drained if I drink a lot and it upsets my stomach.
I wonder if this drinking culture will ever change in the UK but it’s not looking likely at the moment.
Back then, it was all or nothing, you drank solely for the purpose of getting absolutely trashed. Thankfully, times are starting to change
This is a fascinating read! It is interesting to me to see how the U.S’s and U.K’s relationships with alcohol differ so greatly, and how its integration with British society is very different from how Americans view drinking.
I have got nothing against pub culture and people who drink, but I agree that there needs to be a balance in places where people can do and socialize without the expectancy of drinking. Also, shaming people who do not drink is entirely unacceptable. One person’s relationship with alcohol should not be effect someone else’s relationship with it.
Thanks so much for sharing your view!
Indeed, no one should be shamed for having the relationship they want or not want with alcohol
I don’t drink and I have many friends who do and they are very respectful of me and will go get coffee with me instead. I am glad to have friends who respect me and my choice to not drink. As American, I remember from when I was young here people refer to British people and their problems with alcohol. A simple example of a bunch of British people at Disney World lied about how much they had drank and tried to get the worker to get them more drinks. I remember the random person next to me look at me and say, Yep Brits and their drinks. I think its good to have a balance and know when too much is too much.
We’re often shamed by Brits abroad making the news for drinking at sports events
I almost never touched the stuff. I have only been drunk three times in my life. I am not kidding. Both sides of my family have been destroyed by liquor addictions as a gateway to really rough activities. I decided never to go down their path and I’m so thankful for it. Never touched a cigarette. I’ve almost completely steered clear of these vices.
I wished I never started smoking, although I was able to give it up in the end. It was still a stupid thing to start in the first place
It’s endless loop – because of movies and TV shows, there is a belief that to have fun you need to drink. And movies are often written by people who have grown up watching these and following this belief. I don’t really like to drink outside and it’s often a problem to everybody else. Why you don’t drink and they automatically assume I have bad time there. Because I am sober.
It’s always someone else’s issue when you don’t want to drink
In South Africa, people drink like they don’t want to live. People are surprised when they hear that I don’t drink. It’s sad that so many people need to drink to have a good time. You’re not the life of the party when you drink yourself to oblivion, you’re sad.
You know there’s something wrong with a society when people would rather drink themselves to death
In my religion, Islam, alcohol is forbidden. I also believe that all human beings don’t need to depend on alcohol to socialise and make friends. People just have to believe in themselves.
They don’t need to, but they often feel like they have to
This is a big topic. I run an LGBT group in our local area and we’ve had a similar issue regarding drinking being a core part of socialising. It can be hard to interact especially as an adult without drinking. Anyway, I really enjoyed your post. You have an engaging style of prose.
That’s awesome that you run a local LGBT group, but there just aren’t many options for socialising without alcohol in the UK
There is a difference between social drinking that include a few drinks and addictive drinking that includes drinking to get drunk. No one needs alcohol to have a good time. But in most social settings, alcohol is involved because it’s the norm. For some people, it’s the best way to take the edge off social anxiety. But, i agree with you, alcoholism to an extent can affect any relationship.
People can drink to get drunk when they socialise without being addicted to alcohol. You also don’t have to be an alcoholic for drinking to ruin relationships
Bars are a bigger thing in the US than many will admit. Some of the best food I’ve eaten has come out of a bar’s kitchen. I don’t really drink anymore. When I was in college, I was the designated driver one night and just watching all the drunk people in the club was enough for me. I didn’t want to be that person.
Some of the best meals I’ve had has been pub grub too
As a girl living in England I can confirm that it’s absolutely part of the culture. Is a normal thing to go to the pub and meet your friends after work. Great post.
Thanks for confirming our culture ?
If you need alcohol to have fun, you need to reevaluate a few things
What a brilliant read. I realised alcohol wasn’t really my friend years ago, but would agree with everything you say about our relationship with booze, especially as a northern male. I just used to think drinking was part of a script I had to follow and ignored the fact that it turned me into an arsehole. Luckily, I wished up. I still drink, but it’s not a need in the way it used to be.
Definitely best to do it in moderation if that’s the case
I am also coming from a place wnere is a must to drink alcohol, especially to socialize. I have some people around me that really have a problem with drinking and I hate that. I think it’s okay yo drink a glass of wine sometimes but that shouldn’t be a rule when socializing. Great post. Thank you so much for sharing!
Indeed it shouldn’t be the rule
Very interesting read. I’m Canadian and I have some very good friends in Dublin. Drinking is a sport of sorts. I’m 2 drinks max and I don’t believe that you need alcohol to socialize. Just my thoughts.
Nothing wrong with having a two drinks limit
I don’t need to have alcohol to have a good time. I use to go out to town and drink with friends. But I don’t need it to have fun. I don’t really drink very much and haven’t for a couple of years due to the painkillers I take for chronic pain. But I do love a good cocktail with dinner. Thank you for sharing all this information about drinking alcohol, really informative.
Lauren – bournemouthgirl
Thanks for sharing
I’m British but living in France and for me I don’t miss pubs at all but I imagine I am in the minority. My husband certainly does miss them. However in France there is a whole different culture to alcohol that makes it completely acceptable to have an alcoholic drink in a bar in the early morning. That’s a definite NO from me. Not sure what the official (or actual) figures are for alcoholism in France, though.
Drinking alcohol in the early hours of the morning can’t be a good start to your day
I’m an American, so, as you point out, it’s a little different. But alcohol is everywhere here, too. I’ve never been a drinker and I’ve encountered a lot of hostility over the years for choosing to remain sober. I’m not at all preachy about it, it’s my choice. I’ve never understood where the anger directed at non-drinkers comes from.
I guess the anger is because of an ‘other’ fear maybe? But yeah, it is really weird how some people still respond to non-drinkers
I remember seeeing the post on reddit & it’s so interesting reading about the relationship between alcohol & Brits. My partner told me about when they were young, they would also go out drinking with their friends & that’s something I’ve done only a couple of times in the US. I do agree that people need to stop shaming those that are sober!
Brits will start drinking long before going to the pub. Drink on the street or in the park was common
I had no idea it was alcohol awareness week, it’s something really close to my heart. I appreciate you sharing this post as it really will help a lot of people. I myself have never enjoyed alcohol and I’ve never needed it to have a good time but some of my friends do and I think it’s quite sad. Thank you so much for sharing Xo
Elle – ellegracedeveson.com
There is definitely a difference between drinking alcohol to enhance a social experience and needing it to have a good time
That’s the only thing I managed to stand my ground with, and still do when the occasion arises – I don’t drink to socialise, heh… probably why I’m not the best at socialising! But still, you can have a good time without alcohol. Insightful post 🙂
Indeed you can have a good time without alcohol
It’s easy to slip from nursing that one drink to having another, but imho, with time and practice it’s possible to learn how to say no. Not easy, but doable! Thanks for the interesting post.
Great read! And an interesting topic. I am in the US and have never been a drinker for a variety of reasons. But even here, I find it difficult to socialize with others as they first thing anyone asks when wanting to get together is ” you wanna go for a drink?”
Pretty much the same as us Brits then
Yes for me going to the pub has been a big part of my life since I was young. As a casual observation I know plenty of people that go to the pub most days of the week. I guess they are a bit more responsible than me. I have asked some of them and usually they say something similar stick to the beer and you wont get so drunk. I think this is true but my problem is the prices if it was more affordable I think it would be better as people wouldn’t leave to once twice a month to get totally out of it. From what I heard years ago when it was actually cheapish a lot more people went out and I think it was actually better for people. Nowadays though its like they take full advantage of peoples addiction. To me its like the worst feeling in the world running out of money when I’ve got alcohol in my body. I should maybe try making more money I think but yes it is shocking really all the pubs that close.
People that go to the pub most days and say stuff like, stick to the beer and you won’t get hungover, are likely all alcohol dependent
In my early teenage years, I used to think alcohol was the definition of a good time with friends. I was obsessed with getting drunk and making these funny memories to look at and it got me thinking about how I just wanted to show everyone I’m fun. But now that I’m older, I couldn’t even understand why I did that haha. Excellent blog post! Completely an eye-opener.
Yeah, I’m much the same way
I enjoy reading your content.
As I’ve gotten older, I cannot drink. I feel sorry for my friend that drinks a lot. Not sure that I can help her though.
It can be hard to help someone who doesn’t want to be helped