English Football club Manchester United and reality TV program Love Island have taken steps to address alcohol harm. Manchester United has a new rule of no alcohol during match weeks. Meanwhile, reality TV is cutting back on how much alcohol is given to contestants including offering alcohol-free products.
These are two more examples of the trend in the entertainment industry and wider society to denormalize alcohol.

People want to live in inclusive, healthy communities. But alcohol marketing pushes alcohol on everyone, everywhere, all the time in an attempt to influence more people to buy and consume alcohol products. This fuels perpetuates a harmful alcohol norm and fuels pervasive alcohol harm.

In a positive trend, English football club Manchester United and reality TV program Love Island are now taking steps to tackle pervasive alcohol harm.

Denormalizing alcohol in pro football – the case of Manchester United

The new manager of the football team Manchester United, Erik ten Hag, who has a reputation for requesting discipline and a professional approach of his players has started his tenure by implementing new rules to facilitate behavior change of his players.

One of his rules is no alcohol during match weeks.

Mr ten Hag’s methods are working well for the team. Manchester United won three straight victories so far in pre-season. For example, Midfielder Bruno Fernandes has appreciated the coach for what he has done for the team so far.

Denormalizing alcohol in reality TV – the case of Love Island

Reality TV has also been improving its shows by allowing less alcohol. Previously as Movendi International reported reality TV had a reputation for flooding viewers with alcohol content from advertisements to product placements. Now reality TV appears to be facing the harm that this causes for both audience and “actors”. Perhaps it is also a move to reflect the growing alcohol-free and sober curious trend driven by young people in the Western world and to stay relevant in this demographic.

“Love Island” which is airing since 2015 has a new rule which allows contestants only two alcoholic beverages. The rule has been reported on the show since 2017. The show was still serving a bit more alcohol on dates in 2017 but by 2018 this had changed completely to offering no-alcohol variations such as no-alcohol prosecco.

Megan Barton-Hanson who was a contestant in Love Island in 2018 said in hindsight it was a good idea that alcohol was limited on the show.

It just would’ve been a different show for everyone. It’s so intense in there,” said Megan Barton-Hanson, Love Island 2018 contestant, as per The Guardian.

Every day is equivalent to a week, there is no escape. With alcohol in the mix as well, it would’ve been absolute chaos.”

Megan Barton-Hanson, Love Island 2018 contestant

The harmful alcohol norm in reality TV back in the day

In comparison to how Love Island is now, another reality TV format “Big Brother” – which was running in the 2000s till 2010 – was flooded with alcohol. As Big Brother contestant Nick Bateman who was part of the show in 2000 says, contestants were allowed to bring two bottles of alcohol each on the show. They finished all the alcohol they bought on the first night itself. A harmful depiction of binge alcohol use.

Bateman says producers used alcohol to ply contestants and to make the show more “entertaining”.

Alcohol was given to us when we were feeling down or depressed or nothing was going on,” said Nick Bateman, as per The Guardian.

Nick Bateman, Big Brother participant in 2000

Five years later, when Anthony Hutton entered the Big Brother show little had changed. Alcohol still played a major part. Alcohol was used as a reward and contestants even bickered about how much alcohol they would get. This showed a high-risk way of heavy alcohol use and possible dependence of participants.

Even worse, alcohol harm has been previously reported in the reality TV show “Love is Blind” which aired on Netflix. A class action suit was filed by one of the contestants alleging that the working conditions were “inhumane”.

The producers have had control over every aspect of the contestants lives. This included contestants’ time, schedule, and their ability to eat, drink, and sleep, and communicate with the outside world.

The lawsuit also alleged that Netflix purposefully misclassified cast members as independent contractors to avoid paying them proper minimum wage and overtime pay. The cast was paid $1,000 per week but forced to work at times 20 hours a day, seven days a week.

One of the most shocking revelations is that contestants were constantly encouraged to consume lots of alcohol without access to proper food or even water, thus purposely getting them intoxicated for entertainment.

[Contestants] were plied with an unlimited amount of alcohol without meaningful or regular access to appropriate food and water to moderate their inevitable [intoxication],” claimed the class action lawsuit filed by Jeremy Hartwell, as per Business Insider.

Class action lawsuit filed by Jeremy Hartwell

One of the attorneys representing Mr Hartwell said reality TV has a bad reputation for exploiting its cast by pushing them to consume copious amounts of alcohol.

You see cast members constantly have an alcoholic beverage in their hands or within arm’s reach and they are shown using alcohol a lot more than eating, and there are instances of individuals being visibly [intoxicated],” said Chantal Payton of Payton Employment Law, PC, of Los Angeles, as per Business Insider.

Chantal Payton, Payton Employment Law, PC, Los Angeles

Fellow contestant Danielle Ruhl who is not part of the class action suit has also spoken up about the inhumane treatment she faced on the set of Love is Blind.

Reality TV adjusting to sober trend

The trend to reduce alcohol on reality TV follows the wider trend in Western societies to denormalize alcohol and instead normalize being alcohol-free.  A 2018 study by University College London found that almost 30% of 16 to 24-year-olds in the UK were alcohol-free. Furthermore, while 27% of youngsters engaged in binge alcohol use in 2005, when Hutton was on Big Brother, only 18% did in 2015, when Love Island launched.

16 to 24 year olds in the UK were alcohol-free in 2018
A 2018 study by University College London found that almost 30% of 16 to 24-year-olds in the UK were alcohol-free.

However, there are still no rules on how much alcohol producers can provide cast members of reality TV shows. It varies vastly from show to show. Another hidden problem is what happens to cast members once the show ends. Whether alcohol use is limited on set or not some of them end up consuming alcohol heavily as an unhealthy coping mechanism to deal with what happened on the show. Some contestants have come forward saying how the shows affected them or fellow contestants to use alcohol heavily after the shows finished.


The Sun: “BOOZE YOU LOSE Erik ten Hag’s new hardline Man Utd rules revealed in discipline crackdown including strict alcohol ban

The Guardian: “‘Alcohol is a hand grenade’: how reality TV went from boozy Big Brother to nosecco Love Island

Business Insider: “‘Love Is Blind’ contestant accuses producers of plying the cast with alcohol and restricting their food and water in a new lawsuit