Getting together with buddies at the bar is so heavily ingrained in some male friendships that it’s almost assumed to be healthy and normal. The practice is so common that—at least in some work environments and communities —it has come to embody “what everybody does” and is dismissed as “happy-go-lucky,” “harmless” fun. If only that were true. This article will explore how male pressures to drink can lead to an alcohol problem and will provide some tips for navigating these sometimes risky social situations.
How Paul’s Alcohol Problem Began
25-year-old college student Paul had a small but tight group of friends who frequently hung out at bars and drank until they were very drunk. While Paul enjoyed these nights out with the guys, he didn’t like that he was expected to drink himself into oblivion. His family history—an alcoholic father and grandfather—gave him pause. Still, he didn’t mention it to the others. He figured they’d not understand his reasons to be cautious about alcohol. Instead, he started limiting his intake to no more than two beers or one mixed drink whenever he was out with his buddies. Sometimes he’d offer an excuse about why, but usually by the time he had reached his limit, the others were too drunk to notice his alcohol consumption.
10 Years Later
Now married with one child, Paul worked as a computer software designer for a leading company. He had lost contact with his college friends but had developed close relationships with three men at work: Evan (divorced); Rob (separated), and Sean (married with three children). Paul sometimes felt as if he were reliving his college days whenever he and friends made plans for a “guy’s night out” and ended up bar-hopping.
Today: 20 Years Later
Recently divorced and in grief about the break-up of his family, Paul spends his days at the office and his nights at the bar with his two buddies Evan and Rob. (Sean has moved away.) After Sean left, Rob and Evan began pressuring Paul to drink more when they went out, because “divorce is stressful” and “the best medicine for divorce is getting drunk and trying to get lucky, if you know what I mean.” Paul soon succumbed to the pressure and began drinking alot. (He had tried unsuccessfully to open up to his buddies about his sadness over his divorce and the complicated feelings, but they just shrugged it off and urged him to drink more.) Soon he was drinking regularly until he was drunk like Rob and Evan. Little did he know that he had entered the first stage of alcoholism and was heading rapidly towards the next stages….
Why Do Men Feel Pressured To Drink When Out With Their Male Friends?
Drinking alcohol has always been viewed by society as a “masculine” thing to do. In fact, most cultures throughout the world view drinking as a behavior intended to display a man’s masculinity and, in some cases, heterosexuality.
Research into various aspects of sex roles in society found that in a bar or other alcohol-dominant setting, men deliberately want to appear masculine. Not only do they pay attention to how much other men drink around them, they will also try to drink more compared to male peers to “test” their own masculinity. In addition, when a male thinks their masculinity is being questioned or challenged, they may resort to adopting stronger drinking habits and acting aggressively while drunk.
The association between drinking alcohol and masculinity may be one of the reasons why many men avoid talking to their male friends about feelings and emotions. Instead, some men replace this “feminine” behavior by suggesting a “guy’s night out” at the bar. Other research examining the influence of male peers on young adult males found that men are more susceptible to peer influence for a longer time than women. Not until men reach their early 30s does peer influence start to diminish as a factor determining certain negative behaviors.
Growing up around alcoholics allowed Paul to see what alcohol can do to a person physically and mentally. While in college, he deliberately made it a point to stop drinking after two beers or one mixed drink. Although Paul tried to navigate his male friends’ insistence on “having one with the guys” every other night, later problems emerged in his life that eventually led to binge drinking and full-blown alcoholism.
It’s possible that if Paul had chosen male friends who didn’t buy into the “drinking-makes-you-a-man” misconception, or if he had found a male friend who would have offered him emotional support instead of a beer, Paul could have avoided the same path his alcoholic father and grandfather took.
Tips for Handling Beer Buddies and the Pressure to Drink
“I Don’t Drink”
The most effective way to avoid a beer buddy’s pressure to “just have one beer with me” is to say “I don’t drink.” Of course, if your buddy knows you drink, this excuse won’t work. But if you are out on the town and run into friends you haven’t seen for awhile, a firmly spoken statement like “I don’t drink” can hopefully stop the pressure.
Fake Them Out
Most drinkers care only about their drinks, not yours. While some men may monitor what you drink just so they can “outdrink” you, be aware that you could have water or Coke in your glass and they wouldn’t know.
You Do Not Owe an Explanation to Anybody
If you don’t want to drink on a particular night or simply don’t like alcohol, you are not obligated to explain why you choose not to drink. Friends who make fun of you for not drinking, pressure you constantly to drink, or question your masculinity for not drinking are not true friends.
“Oh, come on! What’s one beer gonna hurt?”
“Don’t be a party pooper! Have a drink….this is supposed to be a fun time!”
“I never knew a real man not to drink beer. What’s your problem?”
“What’s the matter? Can’t handle a little whiskey?”
When you start hearing these phrases at a bar, party, or other event where alcohol is being served, it’s a good cue to leave. You could say something like, “Well, I don’t drink, and this is all that’s going on here so I’m getting really bored. See ya around.”
It can be especially hard for young men to resist the pressure to drink. If you or someone you know is binge-drinking or developing an alcohol use disorder, please call FHE today to get immediate help.