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Why Do We Celebrate Binge Drinking in the Media?

Drinking is not new, but drinking in mass media is, relatively speaking. Mass media depictions change the way we think about drinking–how we we behave, what we drink, and how much. What people often don’t realize is that most media depictions of drinking are actually marketing. This is problematic because brewers and distillers want you to buy as much of their products as possible and they aren’t concerned with the effects of drinking on your health or life.

It makes sense then, that binge drinking in the media is often a display of conspicuous consumption. Consider, for example, Jay-Z ordering Cristal at the club. A bottle of Moet costs about 50 dollars, while a bottle of Cristal costs about 300–and who knows what the club charges. Is the Cristal really six times better than the Moet? Of course it isn’t, but everyone can see that gold bottle from across the room and they will know that 550 dollars means nothing to you.

Spending money on alcohol, especially fancy alcohol, is an especially effective status symbol because for one thing, it’s shared among your friends, making you a good person to know, and for another, it’s consumed in a matter of hours. It’s not like spending money on an expensive car or house that will retain most of its value. Used champagne is worth less than nothing.

Another common depiction is the cool guy or gal. This is The Most Interesting Man in the World, or it’s Marion drinking Belloq under the table in Raiders of the Lost Ark. No one is actually like James Bond or Don Draper, but everyone wants to be, so in addition to a fancy watch and a nice car, they always have a drink in their hands. Yet they never seem drunk, but always in control. This is reflected in alcohol sales. Dr. No massively increased the popularity of vodka, and Mad Men revived mid-century cocktails and increased sales of Canadian Club whisky. In general, if some media depiction of alcohol makes you want alcohol, that is by design.

Sometimes, media depictions of binge drinking is more mirror than marketing. This is often true of comedies, which usually bear more resemblance to real life than James Bond does. These often fall into the “I got drunk and did something stupid” category. The Hangover is a good example, or Bridesmaids. We can relate to the characters’ distress because we have been in a similar situation, but we can laugh because it’s not happening to us. Sometimes we are meant to marvel at a character’s crude excess, like Animal House’s John Blutarsky–a character we’ve all met at some point–or Raul Duke and his attorney in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Of course, these depictions have their limits, beyond which they would no longer be funny or exciting. Raul Duke never crashes into a car full of children and no one in The Hangover chokes to death on his own vomit. This gives the impression that even if things get a little out of hand, nothing too serious can go wrong. So while these kinds of movies stop short of glorifying binge drinking, they help perpetuate the idea that it’s a common–and sometimes expected–thing that happens without major consequence.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, Gardens Wellness Center can help. We specialize in detox and getting you started in treatment that works best for you. Call us today at 844-828-1050 or email us at to learn more.