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
Learn to Identify the Two Types of Pressure to Drink
Learning to differentiate between the two types of drinking pressures is one of the first steps toward resisting temptation and remaining strong on your recovery journey. When agreeing to meet a beer buddy, it’s important to note that, depending on the meeting spot, you’re likely to face one or both of these:
- Direct pressure to drink. This is when your buddies encourage you to consume an alcoholic beverage. Some of your friends might offer to buy you a drink and try to talk you into breaking your sobriety by saying “Real men drink beer” or “One won’t hurt.”
- Indirect pressure to drink. Even when your friends aren’t directly trying to convince you to have a beer, simply spending time with them might pressure you to cave. For example, if you meet up with an old beer buddy at a sports bar, it may feel weird to just order nonalcoholic soft drinks when beer was previously on the menu.
Knowing and learning to recognize your feelings when faced with both types of pressure means you can prepare yourself emotionally to face them healthily and constructively. However, your first strategy to maintain sobriety is to avoid situations where you may be tempted by “beer pressure.” Try to avoid meeting your buddies in places where drinking is the norm, such as bars and sporting events.
Learn to Say “No” With Confidence
Because most people want to be polite, finding the confidence to resist peer pressure to drink can be challenging. A UK study found that over a third of men report drinking more than their limit due to encouragement from their friends, work colleagues and even bosses. Because society encourages men to show their masculinity by drinking, it’s not hard to understand why men drink beer together, specifically in excessive amounts. One way of moving away from this toxic display of masculinity is by learning to confidently refuse offers to drink.
When someone offers you a drink, you’re allowed to refuse. Use phrases such as “No, thank you,” “I don’t drink,” “I’m not drinking tonight” or a simple yet effective “No.” The more you prepare yourself mentally to refuse such offers, the easier it’ll become to do it when you’re faced with one of your buddies attempting to offer you a beer.
Aside from working on your verbal refusal, you can also use some of these techniques to help you remain sober in a social setting:
- Always have a nonalcoholic drink in your hand. If you’re attending an event where you’re unlikely to find soft drinks, bring your own seltzer.
- Have an exit plan. Attending gatherings with your friends where alcohol is available is difficult, regardless of how far along you are in your recovery journey. Make sure you’re ready to leave the situation if either the direct or the indirect pressure becomes too much.
- Ask your buddies to avoid offering you a drink. This one’s a bit difficult. However, if you have any people in your social circle you trust, let them know you’re in recovery and ask them to refrain from offering you a beer.
Practice Your Replies to Unwanted Beer Pressure
As you move forward in your sobriety, you’ll learn that a simple “No” doesn’t always suffice when a buddy offers you a beer. Some people struggle to accept a refusal and will try to argue with you. Preparing for such instances can make a big difference in whether you resist “beer pressure” from your friends.
When you refuse a beer, don’t explain. You can try some strategies such as changing the topic or leaving the situation altogether. However, if your beer buddy insists, try giving him some valid excuses such as:
- “I’m driving back home.”
- “I have an early start in the morning.”
- “I need to look after my children when I get home.”
Telling your friends you’re on a sobriety journey isn’t compulsory, if that’s not something you’re comfortable with. However, if you feel they can offer support on your journey, confiding in them may prove helpful.
“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.”
Avoid Situations Where You’re Faced With Pressure to Drink
Sometimes it’s better to prevent than to cure. However confident you become in your coping skills and ability to resist peer pressure, there’s always a chance of temptations leading to a relapse. The best strategy to avoid any form of pressure to engage in drinking is to try to avoid situations where alcohol is freely available. You can try rejecting invitations to places where drinking is commonplace, such as bars and parties. Another option is to suggest spending time with your buddies in an alternative environment, such as an outdoor park. If declining some invitations isn’t an option, make sure you have strategies in place to keep you and your sobriety safe.
Remember, The Choice Is Yours
When people are faced with pressure from their social circle to drink, they may feel they have no choice but to give in. Commonly used phrases such as “One won’t hurt” and “Real men drink beer” can make an individual feel they need to grab a drink just to fit in with their group. That’s not the case. No one can force you to drink against your will. In recovery, you have a choice to say “no” to that drink. If you stay strong in your resolve and the idea that a man doesn’t have to drink to be masculine, you have a high chance of successfully continuing your recovery.
If you feel like your drinking is getting out of control and you’re struggling to cope with the societal pressure to engage in harmful drinking, we can help. Call FHE Health at (844) 299-0618 to speak to one of our counselors. Our responsive staff understand what you’re going through, and we’re ready to stand by your side for every step of your journey to recovery.