|On St Patrick’s Day, our annual festival of binge drinking, we’re surrounded by the 7 myths of alcohol advertising that drinking is sexy, desirable and harmless.
Research shows that Irish children as young as 8 years believe drinking is part of being Irish. This was not always so. In the 1960’s on average each person drank half of what we drink now.
The alcohol industry has had a key role in promoting increased drinking and has created these 7 myths about drinking.
1.Drinking is a risk free activity that does not harm
Ads tell us it is all right, to be obsessed by alcohol, to consume large amounts of it on a daily basis and to have it be a part of all our activities. At the same time, all signs of trouble and any hint of addiction are erased.
2.You can’t survive without drinking
In general, advertising is expert at making the celebration of drinking itself – not a holiday, festivity or family event – a reason for imbibing. It creates a belief that alcohol is essential for life, it is essential to help us connect to other people. We’ll be condemned to a lonely, grey and two-dimensional wasteland, a half-life if we don’t drink.
3.Problem drinking behaviours are normal
A shot of a sunset-lit bridge, captioned “At the end of the day, even a bridge seems to be heading home for Red,” is actually advertising not just Scotch, but daily drinking. Often symptoms of alcohol, such as the need for a daily drink, are portrayed as not only normal, but desirable.
4. Alcohol is a magic potion that can transform you
Alcohol advertising often spuriously links alcohol with precisely those attributes and qualities – happiness, wealth, prestige, sophistication, success, maturity, athletic ability, virility and sexual satisfaction – that the misuse of alcohol destroys.
For example, alcohol is linked with romance and sexual fulfilment, yet it is common knowledge that drunkenness often leads to sexual dysfunction. Less well known is the fact that people with drinking problems are seven times more likely to be separated or divorced.
5. Sports and alcohol go together
Alcohol consumption actually decreases athletic performance. However, numerous sponsorships like Leinster’s rugby official drink of Guinness, wrongly imply that sports and alcohol are safe complementary activities. The importance of these sponsorships to the alcohol industry is demonstrated by the approximate forty times in just three months our Government was contacted when they proposed to ban these sponsorships. The proposed legislation has now been watered down.
6. If alcohol was that dangerous the media would tell us
The drinks industry spend a lot of money with the media so they are often reluctant to bite the hand that feeds them. Although many media feature occasional stories about alcoholism, they usually treat it as a personal problem and focus on individual treatment solutions. Reports that probe alcohol’s role in violence and other chronic problems are rare. For example when discussing the hospital trolley bed problem, there is never any mention of the fact that 1,500 of our 11,000 hospital beds are occupied by people with alcohol related illnesses. The role advertising plays in encouraging alcohol use are almost never discussed.
7. Alcohol companies promote moderation in drinking
Campaigns say, “Drink sensibly”” as opposed to “Know when to say no.” In the guise of a moderation message. This slogan actually suggests to young people that drinking alcohol is one way to demonstrate their control. It also perpetuates the myth that people abusing alcohol are simply people who “don’t know when to say when,” irresponsibly engaging in wilful misconduct. Rather than people who are suffering from a problem, that afflicts at least one in 10 drinkers.
A recent Irish campaign promoted “Don’t see a great night wasted”.
Sadly the research shows that many young people actually go out to get wasted so this ad could actually encourage more drinking.
See yourself as some one with more insight
While we all have a personal responsibility for our alcohol misuse, knowing & understanding these myths are important. It enables us to understand how brainwashed we are into believing that alcohol is essential to a happy and fulfilling life and why it is so difficult to manage our drinking. When we talk to our clients about this, many of them get so angry because they’ve seen their alcohol misuse as a very personal failing, rather than a result of a society in denial about our drink problems. One comment says it all.
“Only in Ireland, would the person with the mineral be seen as pregnant or an alcoholic”
So this St Patrick’s day, try not to feel isolated and lonely because you’re not drinking the way the rest of society does. You’re not taking Jameson’s advice to “be orignal and pick a whiskey to match your Paddy’s day celebrations”!
Maybe see yourself as some one with more knowledge and insight into the damage alcohol does than most people.
We’ve drawn much of this article from the excellent work of Jean Kilbourne and if you’d like to read more on this topic please, click here.
A happy St Patrick’s day to you all.