Is Mainstream Media Stigmatizing Alcoholism? The Answer, Yes

Should The Whopping $35 Billion Rehab Industry Prepare for Disruption?
December 5, 2017

Alcohol use disorder is the new label of Alcoholism, no matter the grade of dependency. The mainstream media is neutralizing the fortuity of being able to decrease the harms of alcohol in more ways then ever before. Unbecoming statements referring to “alcoholism” is what subtly corrupts the ideas and stereotypes of people with the true disorder. Alcoholism may have the same meaning as alcohol dependence, but it is confined to the idea that the victims have hit rock bottom, or even the belief that it can be a lifelong disease. Unfortunately, the mainstream media fails to provide any source of an alternative and instead promotes overly simple information, creating framework for the public to notate and form their own beliefs and attitudes on the matter. Re-framing binge drinking only causes more perpetuation on creating stereotypes, and not creating solutions. Studies like these are what constructs the abstract views on alcohol use disorders. Alcohol related problems become degraded even by recent studies, the counter studies proving the genuine characteristics of the disorder still do not stop the shifts of blame from the illness itself and genetic roots to the person suffering through it.

Studies are so mixed and range from again, blaming genetics to blaming public perception as a factor in possible recovery. A part of the Peace Psychology Book Series published on SpringerLink describes how “social psychological theory of the role of self-conception and associated cognitive processes and social beliefs in group processes and intergroup relations.” This creates the division of the “unhealthy” them and “healthy” us. Outgrouping anyone considered to have alcohol use disorder is the outcome of this division that the mainstream media creates then sparking fearfulness in the general public. While you always hear admitting is the first step towards recovery and one of the hardest, it’s a somewhat skewed statement. Yes, admitting you have a life threatening problem can be hard, but the truly hard part is facing the media created embarrassment of it.  Studies show that when doing an online survey on an Alcohol Recovery website, more candidates wanted to get the help through counselors online. This is a major barrier that has been created and continuously affects the recovery of people all around the world. The shaming and outgrouping of these individuals. This causes a visceral conflict for people, in turn not allowing them to to identify as an alcoholic because they fear the perception that may be perceived from the public, and stopping them from reaching out for help. Making a difficult experience, even harder.

Shifting the false dualistic perception of alcoholism and the meaning of the disease has other very important ramifications. In England, the ten million drinkers that are susceptible to the risks of alcohol abuse don’t necessarily consider themselves alcoholics. They do not consider the extent of the dependency enough to contemplate reaching out for help. Even the 1.6 million adults that have “some” level of dependency don’t consider themselves as having an issue and instead point to the people suffering from extreme alcohol consumption. This is because the media has portrayed any sort of alcohol dependency as dysfunctional, as loosing control of their lives and go back to stereotypes. Studies show that even people with low grade alcohol use disorder can maintain control over their lives, maintaining their independence, responsibility, and productivity. Showing there are different levels of the disorder, this still does not change that the media has shined a nasty light at the thought of being an alcoholic and again, creating the “healthy” us versus the “unhealthy” them. This in itself is a main cause that anyone from mild alcohol dependency to extreme may not reach out for treatment.

In turn, when alcoholism is broken down by genetic and pathological natures, it’s conceived as requiring lifelong treatment through Alcoholics Anonymous or being uncontrollable. This study shown on Pubmed.gov states that overall “Suffering from alcohol dependence, as well as realizing the need for, and entering treatment, were associated with shame and stigma, and were strong barriers to treatment.” Causing drinkers of all levels to identify with the dominant stigma of alcoholism. That kind of perception is undermining the chances of change for these individuals, smearing their beliefs that it’s in their control to do so. In this study it states that “Reasons for this lack of awareness are discussed, and suggestions are made as to the implications of increasing the public’s awareness about self-changes as a way of recovering from alcohol problems.” How many studies need to inform us that the lack of recovery lies on the shoulders of the mainstream media before something is done? In 2015 when a drug became available to the public for alcoholics without extreme dependency, the headlines should have been huge. Instead these common stories released barely got any attention. Yet again, enforcing the outgrouping of alcoholics by not making this a major headline.

Even the stigmatized ideas about the life lived after recovery. A story done by Tanya Gold “Alcoholism Continues Long After You Stop Drinking” really grinds into the complexity and damages of drinking, and long term effects. But, misses the mark by not including the disputed assertion. The alternative language lacking in journalism really plays into the crisis. While even the victims of the disorder are not able to properly verbalize and portray a positive light on the situation. These complex issues need to be articulated correctly, they need to be delivered to the general public correctly, and they need to not demonize the disorder if we want any chance of recovery for the millions of people suffering. All in all, shining a different light on alcohol use disorder can save lives and create less embarrassment and more commitment to the greater cause – the healing and recovery for all levels of alcoholism.