Social normalizing of alcohol leads to different expectations among drinkers, non-drinkers

Reporter and Reporter

Drinking alcohol hasn’t always been the most talked about event of a college student’s weekend.

Alcohol has taken its time to seep into mainstream culture, but it has reached a point now where drinking is considered a norm.

“It’s kind of ironic for a country that had once banned alcohol to now have it be part of everything we do,” said Greg Rocheleau, a doctoral student in the sociology department. “If you think about it, we have alcohol at all different kinds of celebrations.”

Rocheleau said a few different factors have contributed to the rise of alcohol’s prevalence at college parties: the incorporation of it at other celebrations and the perceived function of its ability to reduce stress and allow the drinker to unwind.

Karen Guzzo, an assistant professor in the sociology department, said alcohol acts as a social lubricant.

“I think people drink to feel more comfortable and fit in,” Guzzo said.

Cory Barker, a second year graduate student in the popular culture department, said drinking in Bowling Green gives students an easy way to socialize.

“There’s not much to do here socially and I think that drinking is what people turn to,” Barker said.

Guzzo said an emphasis of partying and getting drunk in college came about through movies like “Animal House” where the college students participate in excessive drinking.

“In our culture it’s not OK for older people to black out when they’re drunk because that means they have a problem, but for younger adults, it is OK and it’s just said that they’re learning,” Guzzo said.

Since a person must be 21 years old to legally drink, some want to drink just so they seem more mature.

“Especially for young adults, it seems like a very adult thing to do,” Guzzo said. “Younger people drink then to seem more adult because that’s how it’s portrayed.”

The anticipation of celebrating the 21st birthday marks the importance of alcohol as a symbol of adulthood, Rocheleau said.

Rocheleau also agreed that drinking has a firm grasp in the college life.

“As a society, we accept and assume that drinking is part of college,” Rocheleau said. “Students then base their own drinking habits on perceptions of what others are doing and that tends to be overestimated.”

Alcohol companies have made drinking seem normal through their advertisements and Rocheleau said this causes adverse effects for those who choose not to drink.

“There’s a stigma whenever a behavior is normalized that those who don’t follow it must be a deviant or must have something wrong with them,” Rocheleau said. “Someone who doesn’t drink is often thought of as a prude.”

Barker said popular culture tends to either portray nondrinkers as people who need to loosen up, don’t know how to have fun or they’re not present in the media at all.

For the most part, Barker said popular culture glamorizes alcohol and the partying lifestyle.

“It’s obviously a big part of pop culture today,” Barker said. “Alcohol is very relevant in reality TV shows like the ‘Jersey Shore’ and ‘The Real World’ where they’re put in a position to do nothing but drink.”

Rocheleau said humans tend to mimic others’ behaviors. As media glamorizes drinking, it causes the audience to believe the behavior is normal and they will do it too.

People who drink too much, however, have two ways of being looked at, according to Rocheleau.

“A group of drinkers will look at someone who drinks too much as having a badge of honor or a higher status,” Rocheleau said. “To an average drinker and nondrinkers, those who drink too much would be regarded as having a problem and not able to handle their alcohol.”

Still, Barker said problems with alcohol aren’t taken as seriously as other addictions, like an addiction to heroin.

“Media implicitly tells us that drinking and partying is what we’re supposed to do as 18 to 29-year-olds by showing people drinking and having a good time,” Barker said. “It shows the other side too where people take it too far and you’re supposed to have sympathy for them.”

Drinking has been established as a social norm and with that comes stigmas for those who don’t follow it and those who overestimate how much others drink causing them to drink too much.

“If you compare alcohol to tobacco, we can come to a consensus that tobacco is all bad. On the other hand, alcohol is not all bad,” Guzzo said. “There is a normal way to be about drinking and we made it normal.”