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Social Acceptance of Alcohol

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Many people begin to use alcohol before they graduate from high school. However, peak use of alcohol occurs during emerging adulthood, and this excess drinking appears to be normative behavior. In North America and many other industrialized societies, binge or excessive drinking during emerging adulthood is condoned, and perhaps even encouraged, particularly for those attending college (Arnett, 2005). Some argue that the college campus environment itself encourages heavy drinking (Toomey and Wagenaar 2002). Alcohol use is present at most college social functions, and many students view college as a place to drink excessively. Students experience greater exposure to drinking and encounter higher levels of peer drinking and positive attitudes toward alcohol as they transition from high school to college (Borsari and Carey 2001).1

One of the strongest influences on emerging adults is their perception of the norms around them. Many college students may drink more because of their misconceptions about the norms of drinking on their campus. They may think campus attitudes are much more permissive toward drinking than they are and that students are drinking much more than they actually do.1 Friends are part of the social environment in which young people learn how to drink and how to behave after drinking. The influence is mutual: young people are selected to be friends of drinkers because of their drinking habits and their attitude towards alcohol; and young people, as well as adults, select their friends in accordance with their own drinking preferences. Thus, networks of friends share a certain compatibility with regards to alcohol. These mutual processes are often hidden under the label "peer pressure". In many cultures, there is a recurrent theme of conflict between familial obligations and drinking with friends.2

Drinking alcohol is more socially acceptable and doesn't have the same stigma attached to it as addiction to drugs. This may be due to the consequences associated with illegal drug use or the negative stereotype of an individual addicted to drugs. Alcohol also has a positive association with family gatherings, food and celebrations. Levels of what is socially acceptable behavior with respect to drinking differ depending on the age and ethnicity of the members of a community. Researchers suggest that these ethnic differences result, in part, from the fact that Whites see heavy drinking as part of a youthful lifestyle, whereas Hispanics tend to see heavy drinking as a "right" they earn when they reach maturity.3


  1. Helene Raskin White, Ph.D., Kristina Jackson, Ph.D. Social and Psychological Influences on Emerging Adult Drinking Behavior. Alcohol Research & Health. Vol. 28, No. 4, Pages 182-190. 2004/2005.

  2. Harald Klingemann. Alcohol and its social consequences – the forgotten dimension. World Health Organization. Regional Office for Europe. 2001.

  3. Young Adult Drinking. Alcohol Alert. National Institute onAlcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Number 68, April 2006.      

This page was last modified on : 10/28/2013

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