So you drink too much. and your kids drink too much. But it's definitely not your fault though. Right?
The biggest reason we have such a prolific alcohol abuse problem is because we refuse to take responsibility for our own actions. The reason that any attempts at sobriety are so protracted is that we are actively encouraged to lay the blame at everyone else's door but our own.
We get to blame being British. We get to even blame the area we come from within Britain. We get to simultaneously blame poverty and booze being so cheap, (it can't be both, make your mind up.) We have a healthcare system custom-built to take the consequences of our actions. A police force tailor-made to bear the brunt of our social behaviour. If we develop a habit of addiction then we get to call it a disease. Everyone looks after us, so we don't have to.
We expect actions without consequences as a basic human right.
But the most dangerous theory. The one that is so massively indicative of where we are failing in tackling alcohol abuse by far is this: that advertising is brainwashing us into consuming massive mounts of alcohol. It's a very convincing lie. I bought into it for years.
It seems true, it has all the elements of a smashing theory. Evil conglomerates spending millions pushing its products into our homes, (although it can't be working out that well for them since only this week Newcastle Brown Ale are offering to pay us to watch their ads). Onto our poor unsuspecting children. Infesting our sporting events and leisure activities. I used to rail hard against it. And whenever I did I felt a niggle I chose to ignore.
And that's the dangerous part. Assuming truth and not examining personal instinct. That's the kind of behaviour that keeps alcohol abuse rife and sustains people in a place where they feel powerless to stop drinking.
Because the truth is if you work in media and sport, (and I tend to) then you are fairly bombarded with alcohol ads and sponsors. Way more than out in the real world even. I've also been sober for 9 years. If alcohol advertising was the mastermind alcohol abuse prevention charities claim it to be- then I would have been reaching for the bottle/can/glass with every ad break.
Okay then possibly it's not that effective. But I would have been craving a drink of some kind. Surely there would be a physical response on some level?
Right. Fine. Maybe I was just overriding the physical stuff. But I'm constantly surrounded by alcohol ads at work. They would definitely find their way into my subconscious. I'd find myself thinking about drinking. Gravitating towards the alcohol aisles. Daydreaming about it?
If you make it your business to build a life that is so full that you don't need alcohol anymore. Then you don't need alcohol anymore. If you make it your responsibility to learn new tools and like new things? Then the responsibility for what you filter for mentally becomes yours too. And you will sub-consciously filter for what interests you. And when you finally stop drinking long enough to get to know who you really are? You will never let anybody try and tell you who you are and where your personal preferences lie.
Advertising doesn't work if you know who you are and what you want. It's no one else's responsibility to decide that for us. Sadly in Britain we do live in a society that teaches us otherwise. But if you an ignore that and decide to make it your business to be in charge of yourself? Then you will be successfully sober, irrespective of external influence.
What about young people though? Surely they are influenced by what they see in adverts?
No. We got that wrong too. For a change.
Teenagers and young adults do way more online viewing than we do. And when they do that they skip through the adverts to get to what they want. They've also grown up in a time where they are so saturated with product placement and advertising that they are way more desensitised to it than we are. We can spend yet more money on research that tells us findings to the contrary.
Or we could have an actual conversation with them.
And this is the crux of our young adult alcohol abuse issue: We are terrible communicators. The single most powerful tool we have to combat any other form of influence over our children and alcohol we refuse to use. The one thing advertising cannot do is answer back questions in real time. Kids have questions. Lots of them. If they are too afraid to ask them? It's because we are teaching them our own inadequate communication skills. If we teach them the dangers of cheap booze. The consequences of alcohol abuse and it's pitfalls. Through word and through physical example, then the power of advertising is negated.
If we teach young people to ignore a society that wants to keep them trapped in this behaviour by shouldering the consequences of their actions. Show them instead that by taking personal responsibility for their actions themselves, not only will advertising have less effect on their choices but they will be far less likely to ever abuse alcohol in the first place.
The choice is ours. We can continue to make more programs that point fingers away from us. Pay for more research that tells us it isn't our fault. Waste time tweeting our smug outrage at everyone else. Or we can do the one thing that guarantees long-term sobriety and less alcohol abuse across the board.
Take personal responsibility.
Let is start with us.