Why is alcohol socially acceptable?

Have you ever stopped to think about why it’s fine to sip wine on a wine tour in a picturesque vineyard but unfathomable to hang out in a cocaine manufacturing facility in the Peruvian mountains? Yeah, quite the bizarre comparison… or is it?

Alcohol put an end to nearly 21,000 lives in the UK in 2021, yet alcohol is still legal, readily available and accepted in society. But why is a substance that has the blood of hundreds of millions on its hands still accepted?

In today’s blog, we’ll take a look at why alcohol is considered to be socially acceptable throughout the world despite the deadly consequences that it can bring.


Historical roots

Like with most staples of any culture, you first need to look at the history to understand why it exists in the first place.

It wasn’t until the 20th century that humans had access to clean, filtered water, meaning that before this, drinking water was pretty much a Russian Roulette on your health. The way to combat this? Alcoholic drinks. The fermentation process of producing light beers or wines eradicates the vast majority of harmful bacteria and viruses. It probably wasn’t uncommon to see people of all ages, including children, chugging on a beer at 9 am.

Because of this, it’s clear to see why there was such a high regard for alcohol in society; it kept people alive. Alcohol even gained the title of aqua vitae, the “water of life” during the Middle Ages. Of course, we’re long past this view in society nowadays, but perhaps our ancestor’s high regard for alcohol still shines through in our own today.

We also have to remember that while some religions prohibit the use of alcohol, others use alcohol as part of ceremonies.

In many Christian denominations, the sacrament of Holy Communion takes centre stage. As part of this sacred ritual, wine is used to symbolise the blood of Christ. Each participant partakes in a small sip, a moment of communion transcending the physical realm. Of course, nowadays, most of the sacramental wine is non-alcoholic, but the idea that alcohol is the blood of Jesus Christ shows a high regard for alcohol in society.

Now, shift your focus to Jewish tradition. Enter the warmth of a Shabbat or holiday meal. Here, the Kiddush becomes a focal point; a blessing recited over wine. The clinking of glasses resonates with the sanctity of the occasion, as the wine symbolises more than just a beverage—it embodies a spiritual connection that binds the community.
We could even travel back to ancient Egypt, where religious practices were steeped in mystique. Imagine temples adorned with offerings. Among them, beer takes a prominent place. Why beer? It was believed that the gods revelled in its ‘life-giving properties’, a libation that bridged mortals and the divine in a celebration of existence.

How is alcohol used in Western culture?

In some corners of the world, alcohol isn’t just a beverage; it’s the life of the party. Think of Western cultures, where a celebration without a clink of glasses is considered a bit dry.

Weddings, birthdays, Tuesday evenings; you name it, there’s a reason to raise a glass.
Buried in our culture is the custom to enjoy a ‘few drinks’ after a long working day or week. Take a stroll down to your local pub on a Friday night to see exactly what we mean, although it wouldn’t be a stretch to wager that you, yourself, will already be there.

It’s such a cultural norm that even pop-up businesses claiming to ‘cure hangovers’ through an IV drip have taken the stage in trendy London areas such as Shoreditch. A quick Google search will put you into contact with even more companies that will administer a saline bag of vitamins at your home to ‘cure’ that pesky hangover. Although this might sound like a bizarre business model, quite a few companies provide this service. If there weren’t a demand for it, they wouldn’t be there in the first place!

We even have social events that revolve purely around alcohol. Think about the wine-tasting events in vineyards across the globe. It’s not just about getting drunk; it’s an art form. Yes, some of us may laugh at those who sniff, spit and comment upon ‘fruity undertones’, but when you break it down, many of these events have a deep-seated class about them. These events make drinking a cultural experience, highlighting the craftsmanship and tradition behind those liquid creations.


Is it time for a re-think towards alcohol?

So, if we are basing our social acceptance of alcohol on archaic reasonings, then surely we’re due a reevaluation of how we view alcohol in general?
When you view alcohol-related statistics, you begin to realise how much spring cleaning may need to be done:

  • According to Drinkaware, in 2020, there were an estimated 525,000 violent crimes recorded in the UK where alcohol was suspected to have been used.


  • In the same report, nearly 6000 people in the UK were injured or killed on roads where a driver or rider was over the alcohol limit.


  • 107,428 people in the UK were in treatment for alcohol addiction in 2020/21


  • In 2015, Norway recorded 0.4% of crimes to be alcohol-related. In the same year, the UK recorded 55.7% of all crimes that year were alcohol-related.


  • In Norway, you’re unable to buy alcohol before 8 pm on weekdays or 6 pm on Saturdays. The UK has no such rules in place.


  • 5% of all deaths globally are related to alcohol every year.


Even with all of these shocking stats, and trust us, these only scratch the surface: why is alcohol still socially acceptable?


Why is alcohol still socially acceptable?

One of the main reasons society still accepts alcohol is because there’s a lack of awareness about its dangers.

In the same way that many people don’t perceive playing the lottery as gambling, many also fail to recognise alcohol as a drug. It’s still seen as a welcome addition to any party or that perfectly acceptable coping method for a tough day at the office.

In a 2023 study, it was found that even pharmacists from the UK hadn’t taken on board the fact that alcohol could be classed as a hard drug. The researchers claimed that it took a lot of time and effort to get the pharmacists to understand that alcohol could be in the same category as other drugs.

Below, is part of the interview between the two parties;

During the study, a pharmacist admitted to not prioritising questions about alcohol use when interacting with patients experiencing anxiety or depression. They expressed confusion about why alcohol was considered less significant than other substances.

Although it would be unfair to blame the healthcare system solely, the truth is that, as a general public, we often struggle to address and confront our drinking habits.

In the same study, a pharmacist expressed their concern when it came to addressing questions regarding their patient’s alcohol use.

This shows that people often feel patronised when asked about their drinking habits, perceiving it as just ‘another healthy person’ telling them what to do. While they may understand the need to drink less, they tend to trivialise the issue if they only slightly exceed recommended guidelines. This trivialisation stems from the belief that a little over the recommended amount doesn’t classify them as alcoholics. While this may be true, constantly dancing around the edge of ‘too much’ can lead to problems.

Consequently, it seems as though there is resistance towards health advice on alcohol consumption, with people viewing it as insignificant or unnecessary. Perhaps another reason as to why alcohol is still socially accepted in our society today.

Final thoughts

It’s quite puzzling how alcohol remains widely accepted in society, considering its potential dangers. Historically, alcohol played a crucial role in keeping our ancestors alive, as it provided a safer alternative to drinking water laced with bacteria and viruses.

It’s also deeply intertwined with religious and cultural practices, symbolising connections, blessings and even moments of transcendence.

Plus, let’s remember the social aspect. Alcohol is the life of the party in many cultures, where celebrations without clinking glasses might be dull. From Friday night pub gatherings to trendy wine-tasting events, alcohol has become a cultural norm, a way to unwind and an art form.

But while we continue to accept and embrace alcohol, we often disregard its darker side. The statistics are staggering, along with people’s attitudes towards alcohol. When it seems like even bringing up the idea that a person may be drinking a little too much, you can start to see why a blind eye is turned towards it.

Of course, there are many, many other reasons as to why alcohol is still accepted in our society, but today, we’ve presented just a few of them for you.


Need a helping hand with your alcohol use?

If you feel like alcohol is taking a toll on your relationships, work, or overall well-being, don’t suffer in silence. Our experienced team is here to provide support, guidance and tailored treatment options to help you regain control. Don’t let alcohol define your life any longer – Reach out to UKAT now and discover a brighter, alcohol-free future. Your well-being is worth it.

(Click here to see works cited)