Getting the facts straight
Fact #1: There is stigma around alcohol problems.
Fact #2: The stigma is very dangerous.
Fact #3: The stigma is maintained by many nice people without any bad intentions but lacking knowledge about alcohol problems.
Fact #4: The stigma is fuelled by an industry that would crash and crumble on the stock markets if fact number 1 would be(come) false.
Let’s take it step by step
The stigma around alcohol means that people with alcohol problems are often categorised as losers lacking morality or having a flawed character. Another part of the stigma is the belief that the people with alcohol problems are only a small group of people, living somewhere on the margins of otherwise pretty well functioning communities.
Barrier to help and solutions
This stigma is dangerous because when people themselves realize they have an alcohol problem, they will deny it – because their self-image doesn’t match the perception of an “addict”. They usually have well-paying jobs, decent living conditions, and a diverse social network. According to the stigma-fuelled belief, they cannot have a problem and that is why they do whatever they can to ignore it, hide it and cover it up.
There is too little open and honest conversation about alcohol problems. In general public discourse is very much “informed” by the stigma thus it is passed on from generation to generation and makes us do the almost impossible: deny what we see.
There are countless numbers of children who see that alcohol problems are not only present on park benches and subway stations but also in their own homes.
There’s a myriad of friends saying nothing although their BFFs are changing in front of their eyes.
There’re countless women putting make up on their bruises covering the truth, exactly as the stigma does. The problem seems to not exist among us. Only out there. Far away.
Ridiculing the alcohol-free lifestyle
Another part of the stigma around alcohol problems is the notion of ridiculing the alcohol-free lifestyle. Popular belief has it that there are only three reasons to choose sobriety:
- Driving, and
- Living in recovery.
So, if you are not pregnant (difficult for men) or driving (also difficult for men), the only reason to be sober is that you must have a problem or you are a problem. Those are the universal believes and behaviours that we adopt and apply in our lives through simple social learning.
Big Alcohol myths perpetuate stigma
There is another force fuelling the stigma of alcohol problems. It is Big Alcohol that profits from all the alcohol use. The alcohol industry is working hard on spreading myths that protect their products and bank accounts.
Consuming alcohol is normal, common, healthy and very responsible…”
The damage done by alcohol is caused by a small group of alcoholics who cannot handle alcohol…”
These myths are basically saying that if you have a problem with alcohol, it is a failure of your own will power and you can blame yourself for failing to handle this healthy product that is so normal and so much part of any social event – even if the event should be you hanging out with yourself.
What happens then? Two major phenomena.
- People who feel they have problems with alcohol won’t seek the help they deserve.
- People who somewhere deep inside feel that sobriety benefits them will doubt and question their intuition for living alcohol-free and will force themselves to consume alcohol.
The question is why would the alcohol industry spread myths and perpetuate myths that harm people?
It is of course about ka-ching.
Big Alcohol earns its largest shares of profits from the people who use alcohol regularly and heavily. For example in the US, the top 20% of American alcohol users account for well over half of the alcohol consumed in any given year. In Australia 20% of consumers are consuming 75% of alcohol. In Germany, every second bottle of alcohol is purchased by a person with alcohol problems. 10% of the population account for 50% of the total alcohol consumption in Germany.
Those alcohol users are not the ones we see in the commercials and the ones we think of when talking about alcohol. But they are the ones Big Alcohol is dependent on.
Imagine if those consumers would realize that they might have alcohol problems, and that they would feel empowered and encouraged to talk about it, to seek help, and to change their behaviour. Imagine that.
That’s what Big Alcohol is scared of. If the 20% of the US population that are heavy alcohol users would behave more like the almost 60% that do not use alcohol at all or only very rarely, Big Alcohol sales would decline, profits would dwindle and that would make the shareholders look for somewhere else to hold their shares. Simple.
A better world is possible
These myths are massively profitable for Big Alcohol. But these myths and the stigma flowing from them are highly detrimental to millions of people.
Consider this: Out of 16,6 million Americans only 1,3 million receive treatment for their alcohol problems. What is happening with those 15 million left? And what does the myth that alcohol is healthy and that there is actually no problem with alcohol use do to them?
Fact #5 is that many things need to be done to end stigma and shatter this harmful alcohol norm.
Fact #6 is that we better do it all together because we have a gigantic, ruthless opponent in Big Alcohol.
Fact #7 is that no matter the odds, you can be a change maker here and now.
The Drink Revolution is coming
Are you still with me? Or did your eyes start glazing over when you reached the part with the numbers?
To turn the tight, we do need a revolution. To protect people and to allow those with problems to get the help they need, we need nothing less than a revolution. The Drink Revolution.
We need to expose Big Alcohol myths. Challenge them and bust them. Our mission is to shatter the current alcohol norm that makes alcohol a pervasive presence and perpetuates harmful myths. In busting myths and shattering the alcohol norm, it’s my believe, we win a better world – a world where more people can live freely, and healthily.