Alcohol marketing has been proven to have a significant influence on drinking habits in the UK. The World Health Organization has concluded that bans and restrictions on alcohol marketing are some of the best and most affordable policies to reduce alcohol-related harm. But what impact is alcohol marketing having on those in recovery in the UK right now? Siân Smith, our Campaigns and Admin Assistant, spoke to Michaela Jones, who and has been in recovery for 11 years, about her thoughts and experiences of alcohol marketing.
“Alcohol asserts its presence at every celebration, work event, Saturday night or stressful weekday evening,” Michaela, who works for the Scottish Recovery Consortium, says.
“Alcohol is a part of everyday life for adults, an idea that is fostered in the minds of children who count down the moments until they can have their first legal drink at the age of 18. This, coupled with its abundance and affordability, has made drinking so ubiquitous that choosing not to drink is met with confusion and the very idea of sobriety has become a difficult thing to understand.
“The narrative created by alcohol marketing encourages and justifies drinking, whilst alienating people who choose not to drink, including those in recovery or with an active addiction. I’m particularly concerned about the effect of all this on those in early recovery or active addiction who are trying to get sober, who are constantly bombarded by messages about alcohol and drinking.
“Because alcohol is so engrained in our cultural activities, those in recovery or active addiction often have to remove themselves from everyday situations to help their recovery. For me, this country’s drinking culture put a strain on my relationships, and it has meant that like many others in recovery, I had to seek out a community of people who do not drink in order to aid my recovery.”
So what can be done? Michaela points to counter-marketing as an effective tool to compete with alcohol marketing and help dismantle British drinking culture.
She says: “There is a clear detachment between the positive way alcohol is depicted in marketing, and the subsequent negative social and health consequences of drinking”.
Alcohol plays a causal factor in more than 200 different diseases and injuries and in seven types of cancer whilst research finds that 25-50% of perpetrators of domestic abuse have been drinking at the time of the assault, and in some studies, this is as high as 73%.
“Better public health messaging and government-backed awareness campaigns are essential to help bring this other side of alcohol to light.”
Using the COVID-19 pandemic as an example, Michaela points out the poor quality of public health messaging on alcohol.
“This pandemic could have been an important opportunity to encourage people to look after their health and reduce their alcohol consumption. Yet, instead, the government placed huge emphasis on alcohol-related industries: off-licenses were added to the list of non-essential shops as early as March 2020, whilst pubs in England were opened before both gyms and schools following the first lockdown”.
Meanwhile, the pandemic has been detrimental for alcohol harm, with new analysis finding that the number of adults drinking at high-risk levels increased from 4.8 million to 8.5 million between February and September 2020. Moreover, alcohol-specific deaths have risen by more than 16% in 2020 compared to the previous year.”
Our conversation with Michaela demonstrates that measures to tackle alcohol harm are needed more urgently than ever before. In addition to stronger public health messaging, stricter controls on alcohol marketing are essential to help protect those in recovery and active addiction from harm. As mentioned above, the World Health Organization recommends comprehensive bans on alcohol marketing to combat alcohol harm. Numerous smaller policies must also be introduced to help reduce harm, such as restricting alcohol marketing to 18+ films, making limitations to alcohol advertising outdoors and in public spaces, and banning online alcohol advertising. It is time for the government to take responsibility and introduce regulations to help break down the narrative alcohol marketing has created so successfully.
Find out more about alcohol marketing on our website.
Written by Siân Smith, Campaigns Admin Assistant at the Alcohol Health Alliance
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.