A couple of months ago I attended a seminar about improving social skills in the academic world. At some point, the speaker talked about how to properly refuse an alcoholic beverage during a social event. She explained that it’s not polite to say, “Sorry, I don’t drink alcohol.” You have to tell the other person that you are “in a soft-drink mood” that day, so as not to give the impression that you are judging your interlocutor’s drinking preferences.
As a matter of fact I do judge people who drink alcohol, and here is my judgment — if your genetic code is such that you appreciate ethyl-based beverages, the amount that you drink is not my business, as long as you keep the consequences of your drinking habits to yourself and those who support your behavior. If you are a soft drink person who decided to start drinking just to fit into a certain group, then you should be ashamed for following the crowd and not attempting to change our alcohol-centered culture.
It seems easy to argue against the consumption of alcohol. To start with, I could list some disturbing long-term effects to the cardiovascular, immune, digestive and nervous systems. If those aren’t frightening enough, I could bring in some up-to-date statistics showing the correlation between booze and violent crime, hospital visits, sexual abuse and car accidents. If that still doesn’t scare you, an emphasis on the gravity of binge drinking and on the amplified damaging effects of alcohol when the brain is developing, such as during the teenage years, should settle the question.
But those facts are widely known, and yet social pressure outweighs worrisome prognostics for too many individuals. The path is well known: some social drinkers turn into daily alcohol consumers, and a portion of these drinkers eventually become alcoholics. The pressure is due in part to the shallow view that alcohol is necessary for a person to feel more confident in social settings. Another part is that alcohol has been omnipresent in social events since mankind discovered it, and few have bothered to question those social conventions. Is it really necessary to drink alcohol in order to appreciate live music and conversation?
The third important factor is marketing pressure. Companies condition us to believe that vodka X is associated with an “awesome party with lots of hot girls,” or that beer Y is synonymous with fun gatherings with your friends, like watching a game. Sure enough, special ads are prepared for festive occasions such as Mardi Gras, when consumption increases. This type of marketing is regulated by certain industry standards in most countries — in Brazil, for instance, beer ads must be accompanied by suggestions for moderate drinking. Considering the implications of alcohol in public health and safety, one wonders how strong the lobby of those companies must be in the American political sphere.
The measurable facts are clear, and the only reason they are ignored is that the cultural hype surrounding drinking has reached a level that leads non-drinkers to feel bad about their sobriety. In light of this, I warn the soft-drink person who is concerned about social politeness it is wrong to say “Sorry, I don’t drink alcohol.” Instead, it suffices to subtract the “sorry.”
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Feb. 4 print edition. Marcelo Cicconet is a contributing columnist. Email him at [email protected]