Are Internet Memes Fostering Destructive Drinking Habits? How social sharing shapes our attitudes toward alcohol

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Graphic via SomeeCards

You’re scrolling through your social media feeds and you see a picture of actress Betty White holding a glass of wine that’s nearly as big as her body. The image reads, “I’m starting my fruit juice diet. Bottoms up!”

The post has gotten a thumbs-up from everyone in your social group. The comment section is full of quips such as “I’m juicing right now! Getting healthy in quarantine.”

Drinking memes have seemed to intensify since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Mommy needs her juice.” “The Dos Equis man is ready for adventure.” “Janice is drinking at lunch again.” All of these memes serve up what we think may be some much-needed levity.

But are they something to laugh at?

Dr. Jason Martin (PsyD, LCPC, CPRP, NCC, ACS) is the director of addiction services at Sheppard Pratt. He sees something different in these memes: They normalize unhealthy habits. “Before what was taboo is now considered normal. People start to think, ‘I’m working from home. If I only have one drink at lunch, maybe that’s not so bad.’”

Women aren’t the only ones involved in this conversation about drinking. Adam Hudson can recall the moment that he decided to quit his drinking habit. He was sitting with a friend at a neighborhood pub.

He had enjoyed the social aspect of drinking but found that one drink would unintentionally turn into three or four. The next day Hudson would have a hangover. He was tired of his body not being able to bounce back as quickly as it used to.

“I told my friend I think I should go dry.” Offering support, his friend said, “If you feel that way, you should try it.”

And Hudson did. He’s been dry for a year and a half and has enjoyed how he’s felt. “I have more energy and more money to do other things,” he says.

While it was fairly easy for Hudson to leave drinking behind, he admits that that the culture around alcohol is so present that it’s hard to avoid. “People need to be careful with alcohol because it’s easy to fall into its web,” he cautions.

One of the ways we can be careful is to be aware of how we talk about drinking in general.

People are quicker to share drinking jokes now, Martin suggests, because the pandemic has taken away many of our normal coping skills. People can’t be social physically, so they turn to memes. “We used to watch TV, go into work the next day and talk about shows with our colleagues,” he says. Now we’re sharing internet posts and laughing privately.

The danger of this new type of social sharing is that it happens in the competitive space of social media—and that behavior is concerning. Martin says that we tend to engage in one-upmanship when we feel a sense of lack in our lives.

The competitive spirit is OK when it comes to sports, but when paired with alcohol, it can be a dangerous mix.

“What’s happened with this pandemic,” Martin says, “is that people who were previously on the borderline are now drinking three or four times a day.”

Having good coping skills is important in a pandemic. “Even folks who managed stress pretty well before are now stressed beyond belief,” he says.

While laughter is an excellent stress reliever, Martin suggests replacing sharing memes glorifying substance abuse with activities such as walking around the community or practicing gratitude.

“We have to be good stewards of our resources, time and energy,” he says. “As a society, we have to be careful with how much we poke fun at alcohol.”

Hudson offers this advice. “Find things that you really enjoy doing. A lot of times drinking comes from an absence of enthusiasm in your life. If you’re really enjoying your time, you don’t need it.”

Substance abuse is a serious problem for those struggling with addiction. In this case, a professional assessment can determine necessary treatment, Martin says. However, he notes, “not everyone needs to go to rehab. Many just need extra support to stop the cravings.”

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