Country Music and Alcohol – Not a Healthy Mix

Nashville country music club

Across American history, the country music genre has made immense contributions to music. From Dolly Parton to John Denver, Garth Brooks to Carrie Underwood, Johnny Cash to Loretta Lyn, Willie Nelson to Elvis Presley, the United States has enjoyed a century of country music that started with Appalachian fiddle players in the early-1900s and has since culminated into a worldwide sensation.

Unfortunately, while contemporary country music stars continue to produce great music year after year, there are increasing incidences of romanticizing alcohol in country music lyrics, romanticizing it, glamorizing it, or even construing alcohol with happy times, carefree adventures, and the ‘good life.’

Given the harm and danger that can come from consuming alcohol, fans of country music should be mindful of the increasing prevalence of alcohol in their favorite genre. And if the alcohol side of enjoying country music begins to take over, they need to seek help as soon as possible.

Country Music, Alcohol, and Nashville

Drunk country music lovers

Today, there are more country music radio stations than any other music genre. There are more country music stations (2,200 stations) than all news and talk radio stations combined, news/talk radio coming in at about 2,000 stations. Country music is immensely popular, which a huge demographic of music lovers turn to country music as their preferred genre.

Off the radio and in-person at live music venues, festivals, and concerts, country music has an equally profound impact. To understand just how influential country music is, one need only look at the Country Music Capital of the world: Nashville, Tennessee.

According to the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce:

  • The city’s music industry generates $15.9 billion per year within the Nashville Metropolitan Statistical Area.
  • About $5.5 billion of Nashville’s music industry has a direct, local impact on the Davidson County economy.
  • Nashville has 190 recording studios, 130 music publishers, and 80 record labels.
  • There are 60,000 music industry jobs in the Nashville area, representing 15% of the city’s private sector workforce.
  • There are four times the music-related employment options in Nashville than in any other city in the U.S., when measured on a per capita basis.
  • Proportionally, there are more music jobs in Nashville than in Los Angeles, New York City, and Austin combined.

Without a doubt, country music is a big deal in Nashville and a crucial part of the city’s economy and local culture.

Unfortunately, given the growing connection between country music and alcohol, Nashville suffers from drunk driving accidents, high DUI rates, and daily public displays of alcohol abuse in the city’s bustling downtown music scene. In 2020, for example, 435 people were killed in impaired driving accidents in Tennessee, 4,604 were injured, all from 7,272 impaired crashes. These numbers are on the rise from 2017, 2018, and 2019, in which 348, 380, and 379 Tennesseans died in impaired driving accidents.

Much of these crashes occurred in and around Nashville. Davidson County, the county in which Nashville resides, suffered 64 fatal car crashes in 2014, 76 in 2015, 71 in 2016, 74 in 2017, and 81 in 2018, many of which were linked to alcohol.

Downtown Nashville, the region’s country music hub, is a hotspot of sound, with more live music venues on one city block than anywhere else in the nation. Yet each one of these live music venues is also a bar, or a restaurant that has a bar. It seems the local live music atmosphere is joined at the hip with alcohol consumption and alcohol misuse.

By the Numbers; Country Music Lyrics About Alcohol

Singing country music

There is a close connection between country music and alcohol that may be encouraging some of the problems in Nashville and in Tennessee writ large, as well as in other areas where country music is especially popular.

In Towards Data Science, researcher Mark MacArdle published a 2018 piece in which he analyzed thousands upon thousands of lyrics for different music genres. His findings shed concern on country music and the growing incidence of alcohol ‘glamorization’ within country music songs.

Of the 2,840 top-performing songs for 2013 to 2017, the songs broke down into these categories:

  • 490 country music songs
  • 483 rock music songs
  • 442 dance/electronic songs
  • 240 pop music songs
  • 476 hip hop/R&B songs
  • 322 Christian music songs

Now for the prevalence of alcohol in those genres. Mark MacArdle performed extensive data analysis of the words in the above top-performing songs. Here is what he found:

  • None of the Christian songs had any mention of alcohol in them.
  • In the rock n’ roll category, 9% of top-performing songs mentioned alcohol.
  • Of the dance/electronic songs, 10% of them mentioned alcohol.
  • In the pop music genre, 14% mentioned alcohol.
  • Most significantly, in the country music genre, a stunning 40% of top-performing songs mentioned alcohol.

It’s important to note that this does not mean that 40% of all country music songs mention alcohol, but that 40% of the most popular ‘hit’ country music songs do mention alcohol. Almost half of everyone’s favorite, new or newish country music songs have a lyrical focus on alcohol or a least a suggestion of alcohol. Would it be too much to assume that such a strong appearance of alcohol in this music genre may pose a potential harm to its listeners?

And just for some context, here are a few snippets of famous country music songs that put a fair amount of emphasis on alcohol:

Youre as smooth as Tennessee whiskey

Youre as sweet as strawberry wine

Youre as warm as a glass of brandy

– Tennessee Whiskey: Chris Stapleton

Blame the whiskey on the beer

Blame the beer on the whiskey

Blame the mornin on the night

– It Aint My Fault: Brothers Osborne

I bet the fella on the aisle thought I was crazy

Cause I taped your picture to the seatback right beside me

Now Ive got empty mini bottles fillin both our trays

Hmm, Im getting drunk on a plane

– Drunk on a Plane: Dierks Bentley

Its not in the whiskey, tequila, or the wine

Its all about the touch and the fire in your eyes

It gets me fumbling always stumbling through a haze

I got plenty to do just laying here with you all-day

– Drunk On Your Love: Brett Eldredge

And pour me somethin’ tall and strong

Make it a hurricane before I go insane

Its only half-past twelve, but I dont care

Its five oclock somewhere

– Its Five OClock Somewhere: Alan Jackson

Country music is a beautiful genre, contributing decades of lyrical majesty to the American music scene. And as many veteran country music aficionados can give testament to, country music did not always have such frequent mentions, glamorization even, of alcohol. In fact, the recent focus of country music songs on alcohol and alcohol consumption is just that; recent. According to the research done by MacArdle, mentions of alcohol in country music songs went up 5% from 2013 to 2017.

Alcohol Harm

Paramedics at work

There is a growing trend of approving lyrical messages regarding alcohol in hit country music songs. Given the harm that can come from consuming alcohol, this is something that country music fans, young and old, veteran and new, should be concerned about.

Alcohol abuse is a serious problem in the United States. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, at least 25% of American adults engage in binge drinking every month. Quoting the NIAAA for the definition of binge drinking, “A pattern of drinking that brings BAC levels to 0.08 g/dL or higher. This typically occurs after a woman consumes 4 or more drinks or a man consumes 5 or more drinks—in about 2 hours.” The NIAAA also estimates that 75% of the economic burden of alcohol consumption in the U.S. ($249 billion) is caused by people who are binge drinking.

As the consumption of most addictive substances tends to go, alcohol use may begin in a seemingly ‘controlled’ manner but then get progressively more and more dangerous. What begins as a drink or two at a live music venue once or twice a year may shift to monthly outings, and then outings every weekend in alcohol-steeped group activities at live music venues and bar scenes.

Today, the NIAAA estimates that approximately 14.5 million Americans are addicted to alcohol, and 95,000 Americans die from alcohol-related causes each year. In fact, alcohol is one of this country’s leading causes of preventable death.

Breaking Free from Alcohol’s Addiction

Because alcohol consumption is becoming more socially accepted, alcohol addiction can seemingly creep up on one without them realizing it. If someone you care about is drinking alcohol to the point where it is harming them or their loved ones, family, and friends, or if a loved one is drinking alcohol and can’t stop, seek help at a qualified drug and alcohol rehab center as soon as possible. Please don’t wait until it is too late. Seek help today.




After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.