Assessing society’s archetypal persona of the social alcohol abuser


“I don’t even know what drunk means. She may get tipsy now and then, but all she does is get silly.”

True story from a family court investigator interviewing a teen attempting to cover up mom’s drinking habits; she was asked if she and a younger sibling feel safe. The teen reportedly added later that mom sits in the driver’s seat and “waits a bit before driving, so it’s ok.”

When a child equates regular and excessive alcohol consumption with normalcy, levity and “mom just being mom,” it’s an issue. It’s been said, “What you allow, you teach.” Children naturally imitate the behavior they witness. With entertainment, news media and prevailing culture all dismissing drunken stupors as an amusing character flaw rather than a disease, the silly drunk archetype is no laughing matter.

Sorry, not sorry

Two social scientists in their book “Drunken Comportment” – an older book re-released in paperback in recent years – broke down how cultures around the world and across time behaved when drunk. Natives in Brazil would shut down and become exceptionally reserved, a Japanese village across the waters would sing and dance after an excess of alcohol, but violent or sexual aggression was unheard of.

It seems that Western culture is unique in its pervasive acceptance of the silly, sloppy drunk.

The social scientists illustrate that nationwide acceptance of such carrying on “is even now so scandalous as to exceed the limits of reasonable toleration.” The concept is even reinforced with mantras like “What happens in —, stays in —.”

Western cultures readily excuse binge drinking and whatever actions that follow as a deserved mental vacation. Dwight Heath, Brown University emeritus professor of anthropology, said, “An awful lot of cultures have institutionalized bingeing as a kind of time out like Mardi Gras or New Year’s Eve, a culturally recognized period where a certain amount of acting out is acceptable.”

Social alcoholism is a disease, not a debacle

“Here she comes, watch this!” Sam’s mom is renown among other parents as the epitome of a social alcoholic: she arrives late, sloshed and silly to his school functions or sporting events. Too old to be the party girl but don’t tell her that. She howls, she falls and generally acts a fool. Sam doesn’t speak up because “that’s just her.” They’re laughing at her, not with her, and either she doesn’t know or doesn’t care.

Some would argue every group of friends has the “life of the party.” However a social drinker is not to be confused with a social alcoholic. Psychology today gives some key differences between the two, with social alcoholics often:

  • Prepartying by getting drunk before actually leaving for an activity
  • Denying their heavy drinking is a problem on the grounds they are able to succeed professionally and personally
  • “Driving drunk and, by sheer luck, not getting arrested or involved in an accident”
  • Having people expressing concern about their negative behaviors while drunk
  • Behaving in ways, while intoxicated, uncharacteristic of their sober personality

It’s been medically proven that alcohol dependence is a brain disease. Nightly manifestations may seem funny, but alcohol abuse has sobering health effects, causes brain defects and carries a host of emotional ramifications on the individual and their loved ones.

Laugh it up

The apple may not fall far from the tree, but it can roll away. If your son is following in the footsteps of a relative who drinks himself silly, now’s the time to sober up and get help. It’s more than personal appearance at stake.

White River Academy provides therapeutic residential treatment and education for troubled teen boys to better their lives and guide them into positive and healthy maturity.

About the author

Kristin Currin-Sheehan is a mindful spirit swimming in metaphysical pools with faith as her compass. Her cover: a 30s-something Cinderella breadwinner of an all-sport blended family. Her repertoire includes writing poetry, lifestyle articles and TV news; editing, radio production and on-camera reporting. 

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