Alcoholism & Drug Addiction: A Cultural Context

The disease of alcoholism and drug addiction can best be understood in the light of present cultural attitudes and beliefs. Our society is permeated with many subtle messages that contribute to the problem of alcoholism. There is an underlying fear of pain and a worship of comfort. Advertisements tell us that if we have pain we should “take an aspirin” and if we can’t sleep we should “take Sominex.” We are told that we shouldn’t “let them see us sweat” because we should be calm and confident at all times. We are told that if we want to be more popular, we need to know how to order the right beer; sex and friendship are available at our nearest tavern. We must get what we want when we want it, or it is “awful.”

Mass media makes it easy to confuse needs and wants. New is better. We shouldn’t have to work hard at relationships. Things and other people should make us feel good. We should feel happy and peaceful at all times, or there is something terribly wrong. These and other messages affect our expectations and become the background for us to view ourselves and our lives. Children are particularly affected by this programming, and Adult Children of Dysfunction are no exception. The disease of alcoholism is experienced within this social context - by alcoholics, their co-dependent partners, and children who grow up in this toxic environment.

There is a growing epidemic of people feeling disconnected and isolated, urgently needing to connect with others. Alcohol and drugs are a central part of the social process for most of that connecting. The show “Cheers” touches a deep cord of being where “everyone knows my name.” Alcohol advertisements always show people relaxing and enjoying each other with beer/wine at the center of things. We sit isolated, alone, seeing the warm relationships and we want to be a part of the picture. Adolescents and young adults often feel like outsiders if they don’t drink and use drugs. The show “M.A.S.H.” showed Radar, the naïve young radio man on the show was the only one that didn’t use alcohol as a major social lubricant.

Addiction to prescription drugs such as opiates, tranquilizers, sleeping medications, etc. continues to destroy lives in growing numbers. Emotional pain and stress can not be “handled” with these highly addictive drugs without a very real likelihood of addiction. The cultural expectation is that life should be good and we shouldn’t have to put any special effort into making it happen. This lack of connection between effort and expectation is a major source of frustration and resentment, which in turn puts even more pressures for relief. This demand for immediate relief feeds right back into the use of drugs and alcohol.


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