Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Social superpowers without that round of shots. Challenging our industry’s biggest cultural norm

By Helen Ureta, Senior Account Manager, Adform

These articles have been written by the latest cohort of the Practice Makes UnPerfect programme – a course that helps women find and finesse their public voices

I still remember the last time I attended a big corporate event before Covid-19 hit. I remember that cold feeling in my hands and the shivers down my legs. I was nervous, I was entering a big hall full of unknown faces. Everyone was so well-dressed and I felt so tiny. A couple of metres from the entrance I could see a drink station, I grabbed two glasses of prosecco, one to drink as fast as I could and the other to have something to hold in my hand. I immediately felt like a superwoman.

Have you ever experienced social insecurity in the middle of a business event? Why does drinking a glass of alcohol seem to be the best option? Research by Bradford, Shapiro and Curtin found that moderate intoxication helps to reduce our anxiety about unpredictable threats. This fact shows to be one of the reasons why alcohol is so appealing, especially during those unpredictable moments in big social events. 

During the pandemic, people have modified their drinking habits, alcohol consumption has moved from bars and restaurants to their homes. In the global drug survey special edition on COVID-19 (5), it was found that 36% of individuals increased their consumption of alcohol, 22% decreased their consumption and 42% reported no change. I belong to that 22%. In May 2020, I took the decision to stop drinking. Summer started in that period and restrictions were lifted. Several restaurants, bars and discos finally opened. Friends and colleagues started meeting up in terraces. Well-known as a party girl, a so-called extrovert,I was avoiding alcohol that summer, something that apparently was not so easy to accept. I realized soon that reasons like being pregnant or being an ex-alcoholic were very well accepted, however, other possible reasons were only an open door to many hours of polemic discussions.  

The simple decision of quitting alcohol sounded pretentious to some and childish to others. I was rapidly labelled as a boring person or the granny of the group. It has been reported in the Journal Psychological Science that alcohol boosts social bonding as well as increases the amount of “golden moments” among groups. For that reason, drinking alcohol becomes so important when bonding with clients and colleagues. In my case, my closer circle was probably missing those drunken nights that created wild memories and embarrassing stories. 

During this experimental time, I wrote a diary to record my experiences. One of my biggest discoveries was that as an adult, we could not deal well with strong emotions without the need of grabbing a glass of alcohol. Celebrations, frustrations, stress, sadness, extreme happiness or simple boredom were easier to deal with wine. Several studies have shown that alcohol has an impact on happiness chemicals like dopamine and serotonin and other neurotransmitters giving that sense of disconnection, reward and happiness  On the other hand, it is widely known that some of us have felt like we have superpower after having a few drinks. People have been known to suddenly speak other languages, are brave enough to talk with their crushes and some even think they can dance, sing or fly. Friends and colleagues have told me stories about having a drink before speaking at big events or before an important conversation and why are people suddenly bold enough to speak out loud and firmly with their bosses. Why is that? Why do we need the magical drink to feel like we are invincible? In research called Alcohol and the prefrontal cortex, observations about how alcohol inhibits rational thinking were done. When you drink, alcohol makes it harder for the prefrontal cortex to work as it should, disrupting decision-making and rational thought. As Forbes reported, alcohol prompts you to act without thinking about your actions, reducing the functions of the behavioural inhibitory centres in the brain

Well, without the elixir of empowerment, I had to trick my brain to believe I still possessed those superpowers. It took time but my brain slowly understood that I could celebrate great moments with nonalcoholic drinks and I could be bold and honest, without those extra shots of tequila. 

Despite all the strong effort trying to explain my decision of not drinking in social environments, some people could not let it go. This polemic decision seemed very unpopular, especially when the drinks were given for free in company events. I have never heard people calling me “stupid” or “childish” and its different variants so often, as during this period.I am actually not condemning alcohol. I am not talking from the perspective of a person who has never liked alcohol or never used it to calm her own social insecurities. To the full contrary, I was a party girl, a binge drinker and I have always loved the taste of a good white wine during a corporate dinner. However, it was time to take a step aside and learn how to handle emotions in a healthier way. Blindly following this social construct was not sexy to me anymore, I decided to challenge it. For those trying to quit social drinking, if you do not find support in your closest circle, well you can always look for comfort in blogs, podcasts and also in videos from YouTubers and celebrities experiencing similar challenges. I found my own support by listening to the stories of Jennifer Lopez, Russel Brand, Bradley Cooper and a few others, as well as in the video comments, where you find people also struggling with the same lack of support. For others who know someone who is trying to quit, stop calling them pussy or other worse names. He or she is not doing this to bother you or pretend to be someone else. Be happy for that person who decided to skip drinks and support his/her decision instead of challenging him/her to break it, it is difficult enough for them. I really love the supporting story between Brad Pitt and Bradley Cooper. Brad dedicated a few words to his friend during the National Board of Review Annual Awards Gala in 2020, “I got sober because of this guy. And every day’s been happier ever since.” For once and for all, be that supportive friend.