Media's Portrayal of Alcohol Addiction Is Harmful and Flawed
The media's portrayal of alcohol addiction hurts people. Last week there was an article on the front page of my local newspaper about a man who was publicly intoxicated. The paper printed his name, hometown, and mugshot for everyone to see. This story was the talk of the tiny, touristy town where I live. Everyone thought it was acceptable to mock this man who struggles with alcohol. After this media portrayal of alcohol addiction and the ensuing jokes, I found myself in a triggered tailspin.
How the Media Portrayal of Alcohol Addiction Affected My Recovery
In 2015, my hometown paper also printed my name, date of arrest, and blood alcohol content (BAC) in the crime section after my second driving under the influence (DUI) charge. Seeing that man's mugshot on the front page triggered the public shame and humiliation that lives in my bones. Instead of receiving compassion or trauma-informed, gender-affirming care following my arrest, the media helped ensure I was ostracized. I was physically dependent on alcohol and needed help, not public ridicule.
It's difficult for me to wrap my brain around society's belief in criminalization for getting addicted to a legal, addictive substance. Why do we think exploiting people's pain and trauma is front-page news? Why, in 2023, do we still believe that handcuffs and communal disgrace are the answer to addiction? Does the media truly believe that cruelty will lead to healing?
The media's portrayal of alcohol addiction feeds us a false binary. It spreads the idea that some people can drink and others cannot. The media tells us that "good" people drink wine with dinner, while "bad" people choose to get addicted. The truth is alcohol is poison. No amount is safe.1 The media follows the lead of Big Alcohol by suggesting there is something wrong with the individual rather than the substance.2
The media dehumanizes folks like me who get in trouble with the law for becoming addicted to this legal, addictive substance. And culturally, we're programmed to believe that behavior is normal. Rather than seeing this common type of journalism as problematic, we go along with the status quo and use humor, stigma, and privilege to disassociate from the pain it causes. In my experience, the newspaper only increased shame and self-hatred, worsening my addiction. Having my name in the paper for hitting rock bottom created unnecessary trauma, wreaking havoc on my entire family.
The Portrayal of Addiction is Not Front-Page News
In 2023, with all of the technology and resources available, the media needs to do better. Addiction is not front-page news. The media's lazy portrayal of alcohol addiction is incredibly harmful and inaccurate. Next time you see someone's name in the paper for struggling with a legal, addictive substance, imagine that person is family. Imagine rehumanizing them and extending a compassionate hand rather than engaging in public and communal exile.
Rabin, R. C. (2023, April 4). Moderate Drinking Has No Health Benefits, Analysis of Decades of Research Finds. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/04/04/health/alcohol-health-effects.html
Sperkova, K. (2020, April 1). "Big Alcohol" Exposed: How the Alcohol Industry Infiltrates Our Lives | The Temper. The Temper. https://www.thetemper.com/big-alcohol-is-powerful-pervasive-and-dangerous-and-infiltrates-our-lives/
Cronkright, K. (2023, April 17). Media's Portrayal of Alcohol Addiction Is Harmful and Flawed, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, December 8 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/debunkingaddiction/2023/4/medias-portrayal-of-alcohol-addiction-is-harmful-and-flawed