Alcohol, Drugs, And Socializing
I wrote this article because while doing research for the site I'd occasionally come across little references, questions, or discussions about how alcohol or various drugs affected the way people socialized. But as far as I could tell no one else had written a central article about it, so I thought I'd put up a fairly quick, basic overview of my own. I think the topic is interesting food for thought. I also think it deserves a place on this site, because it is an aspect of socializing people sometimes wonder about, even if the idea of drugs and alcohol doesn't have the most wholesome ring to it.
Of course I'm not recommending anyone actually drink or do any drugs. I'm just bringing up a certain issue I know some people are curious about and sharing a few thoughts on it. Of course no one needs to ingest any chemicals to develop better social skills.
Most people have a sense that certain substances can impact how well they do in social situations. The most well-known example is alcohol. It's referred to as a social lubricant and most of us have some sort of experience with how it influences people's behavior. Other drugs have their own effects on socializing, either in a direct or indirect way, though they may not spring to mind as quickly as drinking does. I'll discuss all the ones I can think of below:
I'll actually start this article off with one 'drug' that's relatively harmless. I was actually pretty intrigued when I first heard about the advice below, and don't see how it could hurt anyone to use it. What do less naturally social people always say? "If I socialize for too long, I get really drained and tired." Some people, when they get to that point, will have some caffeine. It gives them a boost of energy and they're fine to be around others for a while longer. They use this trick to help get them through mandatory dinners and parties, or to perk themselves up at a bar as the night goes on.
Alcohol is a social lubricant in the sense that sharing some drinks is often used as a reason for people to get together. The term also refers to the way it loosens people up and lowers their inhibitions. Someone who may be quiet and reserved, even slightly, is often more open and outgoing when they've had a few drinks.
When people have been drinking they have an easier time doing things like going across a room to introduce themselves to someone. They can speak up in a group conversation. They feel more confident, and less anxious. They're quicker at cracking jokes. They aren't as worried about getting rejected. They're not as self-conscious about dancing in front of other people.
The appeal of this is pretty obvious. Regular people, who don't even consider themselves that shy, still sometimes like to have a drink or two just to kick start themselves at parties or during dinner with friends. They're not even that reserved to begin with, but just enough that they notice a slight buzz makes them feel more friendly and talkative. Some shyer people appreciate alcohol for this reason even more. A few drinks in and they can function at a club or party, when otherwise they'd nervously hang back and not say anything. Some quieter people even get a reputation for turning into a totally different person when they've been drinking.
This article is about drugs, so of course I have to mention the downsides too. Alcohol does enhance people's social performance sometimes, but the sweet spot is usually only a few drinks in, if that. Drink any more and the gains start to get replaced by more negative effects. You become sloppy. You get loud and obnoxious. You say inappropriate things, either because you weren't thinking, or because you just don't care at that moment. You piss people off without meaning to. Or you start getting tired or lost in your head, and become even more quiet than normal. I could go on about the dumb ways people can act when they're smashed.
There's also the well-known problem of possibly becoming dependent on alcohol as a social crutch. Some socially anxious students turn into borderline alcoholics by their third year of college. It's not that they drink because it's fun, or they use it wisely to give themselves a small boost. They have to get drunk at social events or they can't do anything. I think some people who are dependent like this totally know how they need to use alcohol to cope, and probably aren't happy about it. I also think there's another category of people who feel socially anxious at parties or whatnot, but they're not completely aware of it. They just get drunk a lot, but don't put two and two together and realize they're using alcohol to dull their nerves.
Another thing that can happen, again usually in college, is sometimes someone will feel awkward in most social situations, but be pretty comfortable playing/hiding behind the 'party guy' role. Being drunk and bouncing around a crowded bar or house party and having short, shallow conversations with people, or getting into random antics, isn't that bad for them. Naturally this doesn't do them any favors in terms of their being over-reliant on drinking.
Cigarettes, a.k.a. nicotine
I find smoking is mainly social in the sense that it creates all these little opportunities to make conversation with people. At work smokers can chat to their co-workers during their smoke break. In more and more cities smoking isn't allowed in bars, so the smokers all gather in the designated outdoor areas, where it's quieter and easier to talk. There's a built-in conversation starter of being able to ask for a light or a spare cigarette. When two smokers are together sometimes they feel a bit of connection and rapport from sharing the same habit. And we all know smoking is unhealthy too. No need to rehash all the ways that it's harmful.
Nicotine has calming effects. Some smokers actually stumble into the habit in high school because they find it's a way to self-medicate the (possibly socializing-related) anxiety they're feeling at the time.
Weed has a reputation for producing mellowing, relaxing effects, so some people have wondered if it can help them cope in social situations the same way alcohol can. Everyone responds to pot in their own way and some people say it helps them calm down, loosen up, or become more talkative and uninhibited, but it's just as possible its effects won't help much, or even backfire:
- It can make you feel sketched out, paranoid, and self-conscious.
- It can make you feel really lazy and tired, too tired to talk to anyone.
- It can make you quiet and lost in your head, as you think too much, and focus on all the stoner thoughts that are passing through your mind.
- It can make you say really inane things. The stereotype of a stoner going, "Whoa guys, what if the universe is really, like, the nucleus of an atom in a bigger universe?" isn't that far off.
If you smoke weed enough, it's really just another hobby (how's it any different than being really enthusiastic about wine?). A lot of socializing and relationships grow out of shared interests. Some people are friends because they all like baseball. Other people are friends because they like to get together to smoke up. Some people can make a new friend by inviting someone to come salsa dancing with them. Other people make friends by going, "You smoke?! I'm going to back to my place to blaze right now if you want to come."
Other drugs you can make a hobby out of doing
Similar to marijuana, social circles can grow out of people's shared interest in doing other types of drugs. You'll sometimes come across a group of friends who were all connoisseurs of hallucinogens. They aren't frat boys who occasionally eat some mushrooms while they're partying. No, these guys can go on for hours about the molecular structure of psilocybin or anthropological studies on the spiritual rituals peyote is used in. There are scenes around other kinds of drugs too. Ecstasy and the other club drugs are the first to come to mind.
I won't beat the danger angle to death, but I think one trap some people fall into is they'll join one of these subcultures just because it offers them a social circle and a sense of identity. "Oh sweet, I can be the shaman guy who knows everything about acid." Of course I can't paint these people as totally innocent victims. They were already drawn towards these drugs for other reasons, but the social element may be part of the mix too.
One of the appeals of coke is that it makes people feel more self-confident, powerful, talkative, and energetic. The standard image is of a young lawyer going into some trendy nightclub's bathroom with his buddies, then emerging to bounce around and have really self-assured but vapid conversations with a bunch of people. I don't really need to tell you why you shouldn't do it. I'll leave this section at a quick mention, because it's not a drug I'm familiar enough with to go into more detail.
Any drug that can distract you
Lonely people can fall into the counterproductive habit of drinking or using various drugs (usually weed) to get away from their problems. If you're coming home to an empty apartment every evening, having a few drinks, or smoking up, and then maybe watching some movies or playing video games can really take your mind off how down and isolated you feel. Not the best coping strategy for the long term, of course.
Any other drug you can use to try to feel more self-confident
By far when people try to use a substance to feel less inhibited in social situations they're most likely to turn to alcohol. I already mentioned how people will use nicotine, weed, and coke for the same reason. Sometimes people will try to achieve the same outcome by using other drugs as well. Like they may take ecstasy in a dance club and hope the euphoric, friendly feelings the drug causes will give them the social confidence and charisma to effectively mingle with people. From reports I've read, this kind of scheme usually doesn't work too well. The effects of any drug the person has taken generally make them too disjointed and incoherent to properly speak to anyone.