Depression Depressants: Why Are We Drinking So Much?

Over the last few weeks, the Anglo-Atlantic world has engaged in a slight moral panic regarding drinking. True, our concern is yet to extend to Swine Flu or Killer Africanized Honey Bee levels. You may, in fact, not even know we’re in the midst of a moral panic. It does seem, however, that alcohol is, both literally and figuratively, on everyone’s lips.

Dean Martin, Iconic Drinker (photo courtesy of Alternative Reel)
Dean Martin, Iconic Drinker (photo courtesy of Alternative Reel)

In the United States, the Center for Disease Control recently estimated that one in six Americans  regularly binge drinks. In Canada, researchers at Dalhousie University concluded that, far from serving as beacons of moral support, our loved ones may be driving us to the bottle. Meanwhile, the British Conservative Party, an entity once led by the prodigious tippler Winston Churchill, are now asking the British public to dry up just twice a week.

One can only speculate as to why people on both sides of the Atlantic are re-acquainting themselves with John Daniels. Perhaps this upsurge in alcohol consumption is the manifestation of recession-related ennui. Maybe the issue is cultural, as the stigma of consuming “bargain-priced” alcohol is diminishing, giving buyers license to drink in greater quantities. Maybe it’s something else completely. Whatever the explanation, don’t be surprised by a drinking song and dirty limerick renaissance in the near future.

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Doctoral candidate at the University of Florida, Department of History. Part-time Ro-Man.

6 thoughts on “Depression Depressants: Why Are We Drinking So Much?”

  1. Hi Alex,
    Let’s keep in mind that what the media and publicity oriented alcohol researchers call “binge drinking” is not actually what most of us regard as binge drinking — and also not how the dictionary ordinarily defines it. Also, U.S. per capital alcohol consumption peaked at 2.76 gallons pure ethanol in 1980-1981. It thereafter drifted downward to a low of 2.14 gallons, an overall 23% decline, in 1997-1998. Consumption has bounced back a little since then, rising to an average of about 2.30 gallons over the four years from 2006 to 2009, still about 17% below its 1980-1981 high (see Trends in U.S. alcohol consumption, as a topic, is no stranger to discrepancies between press accounts and consumption statistics.

    • Ron, that’s a great point and something that I probably should have made note of in the post. The phrase “binge drinking” is, like “convicted criminal,” a term that evokes strongly-felt moral judgments, despite how easily misunderstood (and often in flux) such a term is. For this reason, I tried not to explicitly address whether there has been a true rise in binge drinking over the last few months, though I probably should have been clearer about this. The thing that really interests me is how, in the last 30 days or so, there’s been an anomalous rise in media hand-wringing over drinking. The fact Canada, the US, and the UK are going through a very slight moral panic at the moment is, of course, not surprising in unto itself. That this concern arose so suddenly and drastically struck me as quite peculiar, though.

  2. In terms of the press accounts, I would speculate that it’s just the right time of year for this kind of coverage; people are coming off the excesses of the holiday season (and thinking about resolutions to clean up their houses, diets, etc) and journalists have reached the bottom of their year-end lists. Maybe we’re seeing a moral ‘seasonal anxiety disorder’ rather than a full-blown panic.

    • Good point. The tenor of these articles usually come off as “Woe is us. People are self-medicating to dull the pain of this waking life.” I’d imagine a true moral panic would read more like “Alcohol is ruining society and we have to do something. Think of the children!” So yes, this phenomena may very well be tied to general winter malaise.

      Also, Claire, I imagine Pfizer would gladly pay you a mint for the rights to the term “moral seasonal anxiety disorder.”

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