Dealing with Alcohol Advertisements While Beginning Recovery

The Chicago Tribune in 2012 valuated the alcohol industry as a $60 billion annual business, and AD Week in 2014 said the 14 top beer and distilled spirits companies spent $3.45 billion on marketing and advertising in 2011. The barrage of alcohol advertisements comes in the form of event sponsorships, onsite supermarket promotions, television and print ads, billboards and banners, product placement and online/mobile marketing. In fact, the same AD Week article reported that 8 percent of the expenditures involved digital marketing, a fourfold increase from 2008, and the most-used websites were Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. In 2013, Variety added that alcohol companies now pay to weave their logos and beverages into television shows, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted that 24 percent of alcohol commercials appear on shows in which more than 30 percent of the viewers are under 21. High school students in particular view approximately 2,000 alcohol commercials per year. For many recovering addicts, the onslaught of alcohol advertising can be problematic, especially during the early stages of recovery, but various tools and strategies can help them deal with the advertising and cravings without hiding out in a media-free bubble.

Alcohol Ads and Substance Cravings

The aforementioned Variety piece noted that TV channels once shied away from alcohol advertising. This changed in 1996 when cable channels and local stations started running ads with little backlash, and the broadcast channels followed in 2011 with ads primarily airing during late night hours. The trend continues to move in the direction of more ads seen at all hours of the day. For a person in recovery, alcohol marketing may cue substance-use cravings and urges.

The mesolimbic system in the brain is where addiction develops, and a contributing factor is the mesolimbic pathways’ role in reward-driven memory enhancement. Both current and recovering addicts have substance-reward memories embedded in their brains, and seeing or experiencing certain things in their environment can recall past alcohol or drug use. The cue might be a person, song, holiday, emotion, place or other experience associated with past drug or alcohol abuse. For recovering addicts, the memory cues can trigger intense substance-use cravings and urges accompanied by stomach tension, nervousness, anxiety and racing thoughts.

Alcohol ads associate drinking with good times, attractive people, adventure, friendship and appealing activities like concerts and sporting events. When recovering addicts see such ads, it can potentially cue memories of enjoyable alcohol-related moments in their pasts. Likewise, posters and billboards can have the same triggering effect, especially if the ad is for the individual’s favorite brand of alcohol. Social media can also have a negative effect. A study published by Michigan State University in 2015 found that alcohol-related posts by friends on Facebook motivated engagement (e.g., shares, likes, comments) and increased interest in drinking. For a recovering addict, seeing alcohol-related activity on social media can be especially trying if it involves old drinking buddies having a good time seemingly without consequence.

Dealing with Alcohol Ads

For people beginning recovery, it is important to learn how to deal with memory cues like alcohol advertising. The first step is learning to identify and avoid the cues, which can include the following:

  • A favorite liquor store or bar with heavy alcohol advertising
  • The alcohol section of supermarkets and other retail stores
  • Television shows and commercials that glorify drinking
  • Social media photos and posts that depict drinking and partying
  • Any event with excessive alcohol-related signage and promotion

One simple way to limit exposure is to fast-forward through commercials when watching TV, especially sporting events. Individuals can also strengthen their recoveries by self-monitoring their cues and cravings. This might include keeping a journal that lists what triggered the craving, how long it lasted, its intensity level and what actions (if any) helped the cravings to pass. In addition, several strategies can help recovering addicts cope with cravings when they occur, including the following:

  • Quickly reduce exposure to the cue (e.g., turn off the TV, leave the event/location)
  • Engage in a distracting activity like exercising, running an errand, or doing a puzzle
  • Speak with a sponsor, friend or family member about the cravings and triggers
  • Utilize self-talk tools that challenge memories, expected outcomes and racing thoughts
  • Turn to photos (e.g., loved ones, addiction consequences) that might provide strength
  • Understand that most cravings only last a few minutes, especially when mental focus is put elsewhere

While these tools identify, avoid and cope with triggers and cravings, it is also important to cultivate a healthy recovery culture overall. This typically includes developing a set routine, promoting a positive outlook, finding a recovery sponsor, actively participating in a recovery group and continuing to develop positive coping skills and strategies. Moreover, if alcohol advertising or other triggers lead to a lapse or relapse, be honest about what happened and get help through a support group or additional treatment.

Addiction and Recovery Help

Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day on our toll-free helpline. If you need assistance with addiction treatment or recovery, we can discuss options, make recommendations and even check insurance policies for treatment benefits. We are here to help so please call now.

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