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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014

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In Living

No one wants to be the odd one out, especially during a night out with friends. (PHOTO: shutterstock.com )

Is peer pressure worse for adults?


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Dr. Miller reports that those who break away from the cultural norm of indulgence (and, often, overindulgence) are viewed with suspicion.

"All of these cliches actually do apply to the Wisconsin scene, that if someone who declines to drink is considered to be different and maybe encouraged to, 'Oh, just try one,'" he says.

"Because people realize how normative it is to drink in Wisconsin, they feel like they'll make someone else uncomfortable if they abstain, so they may drink just to not create an embarrassing situation or some level of tension between them and the people around them."

"Misery loves company," Bitzan agrees. "Someone may say, 'You're not as much fun when you don't drink.' I think there's some truth to that. However, there's also some truth to the idea that being sober around drunk people is not very fun, either. So someone who is looking to lose their inhibitions is not as likely to do so when their friend is stone-cold sober."

For many, drinking fine wine and craft beer is more than a pastime – it's a hobby, says Milwaukee resident Eileen Bennett.

"Pretty much any gathering of young adults involves alcohol in one way or another. Sporting events, wedding showers, rec softball games, work parties – you name it, alcohol is an expectation. It's a form of social bonding, and for some a certain type of drinking might be a hobby such as craft beer or wine. If there is a party happening that I know is going to involve heavy drinking and I'm not in the mood for that, I can expect to be pressured into drinking more than I want."

She suggests planning ahead. "If you show up to a social event knowing that there will be drinking but make the decision not to, you can still have a fun time because you went into the situation knowing that you would socialize without alcohol."

And be sure to have an equally sober wingman. "It helps to go with someone who is also committed to keeping a low limit because then you can keep each other in check and you don't have to feel like the loner who isn't drinking much."

Campbell copes with scrutiny by trying to avoid it altogether. Her new favorite recreational beverage? Seltzer water with a lemon wedge.

"It appears that I am drinking when I am not, I feel more comfortable, and most of the time nobody is the wiser," she said. "You can also volunteer as the DD if you're looking for an easy out. If you do make your choice public, I think it is extremely helpful to have a few quick, go-to lines prepared to shut up the haters when they ask why you're not drinking or start laying on the pressure. Being direct, clear and confident in asking for their respect and support can go a long way."

Ultimately, she says, the peer pressure is definitely out there. But it's up to each individual to know their own limit and adhere to it.

"To be honest, the peer pressure and goading from friends is annoying and frustrating, but it's so much easier to ignore the haters than it is to overcome the pressures you feel internally," she says. "My friend chanting in my ear to 'drink drink drink' isn't going to get me to buy a beer; but being the only person in the room without a drink in your hand? Now that's pressure."

And don't be too quick to assign blame to the culture of Wisconsin in the case of real alcoholism.

"Drinking is not a problem except for people who have a problem with alcohol," says Dr. Miller. "Binge drinking is not synonymous with alcoholism. But the likelihood for someone developing an addiction when they drink is more related to genetics than anything else. We have to remember that addiction whether it be alcohol or opioids or anything else is a brain disease with a strong genetic component."

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