Troubling Trends in Alcohol Marketing & Misuse

Researchers observed that Americans, and women in particular, were drinking more during the pandemic, and this consumption was largely driven by stress (New York Times). In Vermont, among people who accessed VT Helplink—a statewide, public resource for finding substance use treatment and recovery services—alcohol was most frequently listed as the substance of concern in 2020 (Vermont Department of Health). Research shows that drinking to cope with stress is linked to higher rates of alcohol use disorder than other reasons for consumption (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism).

During the pandemic, access to alcohol and other substances changed. In March 2020, Vermont Governor Phil Scott signed an executive order that allowed takeout of alcoholic beverages from bars and restaurants, as well as home delivery of alcohol. Act 70, which went into effect on July 1, 2021, authorizes alcohol sales via curbside pickup for another two years.

As the New York Times reports:

“…despite the worrying circumstances, at least 20 states are considering making permanent the relaxed alcohol rules they put in place during the pandemic. And alcohol manufacturers have exploited Covid-19 as a marketing tool to an extent that is “frustrating and surprising,” [Elyse Grossman, a policy fellow at Johns Hopkins] says. “They have used the pandemic to increase sales and oppose regulation. ‘You need time to yourself; you should be drinking. You need alcohol to relax; you need it to get through this pandemic.‘”

This exploitation of marketing and advertising has deadly consequences. Alcohol consumption is the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States (NIAAA), and alcohol is the number one substance consumed by teens, linked to more than 4,300 deaths per year (Partnership to End Addiction). Studies have shown that the more that young people are exposed to alcohol advertising, the more likely they are to begin drinking or, if already drinking, to drink more (Boston University Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth).

Youth are exposed to alcohol advertising on television or the internet, and through outdoor or in-store signage in displays in supermarkets or convenience stores in the community. This advertising frequently targets and appeals to youth through placement (i.e., next to non-alcoholic sodas) and packaging design, such as colorful and single-serving sized packaging resembling fruity and sweet drinks such as soda, popsicles, or iced tea (PreventionWorks!). Additionally, the alcohol industry is increasingly targeting youth through social media advertising to promote positive social norms towards alcohol use (Preventive Medicine).

These frozen cocktails attract youth through bright colors, “fun” messaging, and packaging that resembles non-alcoholic freezer pops. Image via eatingwell.com

Finally, the home remains a primary source of alcohol for underage drinkers. Parents and other adults have the ability and responsibility to limit youths’ access to alcohol, especially at social gatherings hosted at home. If you’re hosting a gathering this summer, here are simple steps you can take to ensure that children and youth stay safe:

  • Provide non-alcoholic beverages. This also supports our friends and family members who are in recovery! Remember, if someone says “no, thank you” to an alcoholic drink, there’s no need to ask them why. Instead, offer a non-alcoholic beverage for them to enjoy.
  • Keep alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages in separate coolers, and label these containers clearly. See Healthy Lamoille Valley‘s great examples below!
  • Have an adult monitor the alcohol during the gathering.
Cooler stickers created by Healthy Lamoille Valley’s Parent and Caregiver Workgroup
Cooler stickers created by Healthy Lamoille Valley’s Parent and Caregiver Workgroup

1 comment

  1. “Spiked with fun”? That’s highly problematic language—and I’m someone who works in the wine industry! Thanks for sharing all of this super-important information and sharing the tips.

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