Alcoholics Are Struggling During Lockdown, and Our Social Media Habits Are Making It Worse

Alcoholics Are Struggling During Lockdown, and Our Social Media Habits Are Making It Worse

Social media is the go-to place for keeping in touch with loved ones over the lockdown. But with an increase in alcohol related content online, alcoholics are struggling to stay sober and connected. 

Tom Tremewan has been sober for two years and four months. He said that the Covid-19 lockdown has been “the hardest challenge so far.” For Tom, the lack of routine and the increased focus on alcohol in the media are making his lockdown a struggle with addiction.

“It came as a shock that the removal of that routine just took the wheels off. When the wheels come off, that desire to drink comes back.”

People are posting photos of themselves and talking about drinking more than ever, and it’s interfering with Tom’s life. “I see exposure to it every single day,” he said. “I’m guaranteed to see people on my timeline after 5pm having a drink.”

It’s also interfering with Tom’s relationships. Right now, the internet is one of the only options to connect to loved ones, and this is an issue. “In all my video calls with my friends and whānau, someone is having a beer, pouring a drink, or mixing a drink.“

“I have definitely declined [online] hangouts with people while they were having a glass of wine,” Tom said.

Sam* is a recent graduate also struggling with alcohol during the lockdown. She agreed that social media makes her want to drink. “Whether it’s friends or family posting selfies, old photos of when they were drinking and enjoying themselves, or posting memes about drinking, it’s normalising it in my mind.”

Dr Tony Farrell, a GP with a Fellowship in Addiction Medicine, said that “the really sad thing about alcohol memes is that they really normalise alcohol, and they really normalise the excess taking of it.” This ranges from advertising like Tui’s ‘Yeah Right’ campaign, to alcohol-based challenges, like the ‘See a Skull Send a Skull’ challenge where people share a video of themselves downing a glass of wine on Snapchat.

He said that activity on social media “really shows how this type of drug taking has been seen as a funny or sexy or a normal thing to do when in fact, it's a high-risk behavior.”

Dr Farrell said that those struggling right now should communicate with their peers. He suggested people ask to be excluded from posts to do with alcohol, and to make friends aware that the exposure can trigger alcohol dependent people and make them unsafe.

He also stressed that alcohol companies actively try to normalise alcohol on social media. “Social media is one of the more sophisticated ways that alcohol companies are able to keep reminding our unconscious brains that alcohol is an everyday thing, when in fact it shouldn't be.”

Tom described this sensation his own way. He said: “Have you ever watched Madmen and thought ‘I want to drink and smoke like Don Draper’? It’s like that.”

Dr Farrell said that the exposure of alcohol on social media and in advertising is dangerous. “Alcohol-dependent people will respond to cues. It’s like our survival systems have been hijacked.”

Sam thinks that the exposure from social media is feeding into her drinking, especially while working from home. “Normally I have multiple people who call me out on it, because I don't realise how much I'm drinking.” But Sam’s partner isn’t home while she works, so she’s left unchecked throughout the day. 

She believes that the normalisation of drinking more during lockdown makes her feel like there isn’t anything wrong with her consumption throughout the day. “I don't have to drive, I don't have to operate heavy machinery, there’s no risk of me being alcohol tested or drug tested, so it’s like ‘what’s the harm in a drink?’” 

She said that alcohol stores delivering “makes it a lot harder during a time where no one can go out for big walks away from home or distract themselves by doing something else.”

“I'm not a prohibitionist, I still drink alcohol, but it’s the over-commercialisation [that’s the problem],” said Dr Farrell. 

He said that part of the issue lies with alcohol companies desperate to move their product. “Here’s all these essential businesses like doctors, nurses, cleaners and police out there trying to help our situation, and here’s these alcohol companies going ‘but we're essential too’, like you need to be able to buy it online in large amounts.”

“The general lockdown message has been to care and be compassionate, look after yourself and the elderly,” said Tom. “I’ve seen no exposure for people suffering with addiction and dependency going into lockdown.”

Tom wanted to know why there was no coverage for this issue. “I’ve never been this close to breaking.”

“It makes it so much harder,” Sam said. “There's not that awareness of 'I need to keep myself in check with this.' I can't easily go out and get counselling or be exposed to people that have been through the same thing.”

She stressed how important it is to have someone around who makes you aware of your consumption. “I have been surrounded by alcoholics my whole life, so until I was called out by my partner I never actually realised [my drinking] was an issue.”

Tom thinks that there has been a serious lack of support for people like him, and that people aren’t taking it seriously. “This rāhui really does seem like one big piss-up.”

Dr Farrell said that addiction issues were left unaddressed way before Covid-19. “We know that addiction and mental health services are really underfunded in this country.”

“We don't get respect from alcohol companies about their product, so I can't see why there would be a sudden kind of enlightenment during a lockdown that people with dependencies really need some help here,” he said.

“If you're addicted to something there's this idea that something is wrong with you, that you're a bit faulty,” Dr Farrell said. “Clients that come in to me with these issues feel dreadful about themselves, when in fact it’s a primary issue like depression or heart disease.”

People who are concerned with their drinking can visit, and Dr Farrell says that anybody who has concerns should reach out to a health professional.

“There is help available. If you do have addictions they are treatable.”


*Name has been changed for anonymity.


Posted 12:10pm Monday 27th April 2020 by Wyatt Ryder.