Alcohol advertising is all around us and that hasn’t gone unnoticed by our children. In fact, research has found that 82% of young people recalled seeing at least one form of alcohol marketing in the last month. In this blog, Ruth Spencer, Area Manager for Aquarius, a charity which provides specialist services to young people and adults who use alcohol and other drugs, reflects upon the impact of alcohol advertising and how the young people she meets feel about alcohol marketing.
Alcohol. It’s advertised at every turn.
It doesn’t matter that alcohol deaths are on the rise. We are still surrounded by billboards, banners, front-page ads, pop-up windows and tv commercials all encouraging us to drink more.
But what impact is this having – especially on young people? Is alcohol advertising setting our young people up to fail? And are we listening to their views on the subject?
At Aquarius we have young people’s services across the Midlands and South East and alcohol is a hot topic. Literally. Our young people get hot under the collar talking about it, with mounting frustrations that we don’t listen to them or consider the impact it has on their lives.
One young person I spoke to recently shared the anxiety he feels when he goes out with his dad, who is in recovery.
“There is nowhere alcohol ain’t,” he said, “If we go to the cinema people are lying back with a drink. I can’t get popcorn from the counter because alcohol is right there in your face and they even show deals for alcohol on the screen.”
When reflecting on this, it hit me; everywhere I go with my own kids is the same. The supermarket, sporting events, holidays, bowling, castle visits, even walks in the countryside!
During the pandemic young people have also been encouraged to do more online; socialise with their mates, attend school, and play video games. The desperation to stay connected has also come with a price.
Being online opens up the social media world and members of my team say how confusing that world is for a young person. They see influencers on Instagram promoting gin clubs and wine o’clock then hitting the gym, doing a yoga session and displaying the perfect body, then back to endorsing a beer.
As lockdown lifted we have even reinforced the message of alcohol being central to our culture and lifestyles by opening pubs before gyms!
Young people need role models making positive choices and not to be exposed to alcohol at every turn. We are at a crucial point where we are encouraging them to go back out, see their friends in person and enjoy themselves. However all too often drinking together becomes the default option. People want to feel relaxed, and rely on alcohol for a boost and encouragement to interact. Let’s face it; we’re all out of practice in being with others, spending our lives in lounge wear online or in my case in bed by 9 o’clock!
So how are we promoting healthy social relationships? This year we have seen the country flock to the pub to watch the footie and support our Three Lions. Instead of the tournament promoting the health and fitness needed to be one of our amazing footballers we had so many beer ads and saw images on social media of drunk and rowdy behaviour before and after matches held up as the norm.
For too long alcohol has been pushed as a right of passage for young people in order to become an adult. We need to call for change, not put beer bottles on birthday cards for when someone turns 18.
My experience is that young people and children are already asking for change.
“I want it out my face,” one young person told me.
“Adults don’t get it,” said another.
So isn’t it time we did something about it? Let’s give children and young people the alcohol-free childhood they both want and deserve. Let’s introduce alcohol advertising restrictions to protect them from the bombardment of ads and make a positive change.
Written by Ruth Spencer
Aquarius is a charity with services across the Midlands, supporting adults and young people affected by alcohol, other drugs and gambling. Find out more about their services on their website.
If you are worried about your own or someone else’s drinking, there is help available.
Drinkline is the national alcohol helpline. Calls are free and confidential. Call 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9.00am to 8.00pm, weekends 11.00am to 4.00pm).
More information about organisations which offer help and support can be found on our support page.
This blog was published with the permission of the author. The views expressed are solely the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Alcohol Health Alliance or its members.