Forget all you think you know about alcohol abuse. The modern face of alcoholism is more likely to be wearing the latest fashion and amassing followers on Instagram, writes Jen Vuk.
With her tumble of caramel curls, classic European style and vaguely insouciant stare it’s easy to see how Louise Delage amassed some 44,000 followers and more than 50,000 likes on Instagram in just two months.
The 25-year-old Frenchwoman seemed to lead an enviable life. If she wasn’t on the back of a yacht, she was sunning herself next a pool or kicking up her expensive heels at any one of the many Parisian nightclubs.
But if you look closely you’d see that all is not as rosy it appears. In every photo, and within easy reach, there’s, tellingly, a glass of alcohol.
Louise isn’t an alcoholic, but only because she doesn’t officially exist. ‘Louise’ is the construct of the Paris-based agency BETC, which created the social media ad for the French alcohol awareness-raising organisation Addict Aide and their ‘Like My Addiction’ campaign.
Modelled after well-known fashion bloggers, the ad is an attempt to show people how easy it is to miss addiction in those we think we know best.
There’s a huge stigma attached to this label in our society...
It’s one of the biggest problems we are facing, but we are still afraid to talk about it.
Someone who identifies intimately with this is Talitha Cummins. For years during her 20s the Weekend Sunrise news presenter struggled with alcoholism, yet kept it so close to her chest that not even her own mother suspected she had a problem.
As Cummins told the ABC program Australian Story last month, she’d spend a typical weeknight drinking (it wasn’t unusual for her to polish off two bottles of wine at a time), before waking at 5 am, going for a 10-km run, downing a strong black coffee and fronting up to the morning news desk.
‘There’s a huge stigma attached to this label in our society,’ the now 36-year-old says. ‘It’s one of the biggest problems we are facing, but we are still afraid to talk about it.’
While she’s been sober for more than four years and recently welcomed her first child, Cummins says she went public as a ‘cautionary tale’, because she is, she says, the ‘modern face of alcoholism’.
Salvos drug and alcohol case manager Julia Brand concurs, adding that in her experience alcohol abuse remains a significant problem among 18- to 24-year-olds.
‘Our records show that alcohol was the second most popular drug of choice behind cannabis among the clients in the last financial year,’ adds Brand, who also runs FYRST (the Salvo-run Follow-on Youth Recovery Support Team which operates in Parramatta and Fairfield in Sydney). (This is mirrored in the latest Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report which found that 18- to 24-year-olds were not only ‘more likely than any other age group to drink at risky levels’, but were also the ‘least likely to receive treatment for alcohol use’.)
‘This has remained constant in our service for the seven years I have been with FYRST. FYRST has found that a large amount of young people drink alcohol; however, they may not be presenting to FYRST for this drug as they may not see it as problematic,’ she tells Warcry.
According to the AIHW report, alcohol was a leading risk factor for Australians under the age of 45 in 2011, while alcohol-use disorders were responsible for more than 1% of the total burden of disease in 2011.
And while a combination of increasing the price of alcohol, restricting trading hours and reducing the number of bottle shops in any given area is undeniably behind the drop in ‘risky alcohol consumption between 2004 and 2013’ work was still needed to target young people, according to National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre’s Professor Maree Teesson.
‘Our research has shown that it takes 18 years from when a person first starts to have problems with alcohol, to actually seeking treatment,’ she told the ABC.
Professor Teesson said that for many young people the message around alcohol remains multifaceted and ambivalent.
‘We give people very complex messages that sport and having a good time is associated with drinking a lot of alcohol,’ she says. ‘We don’t give them the alternate messages, which are that it can cause short-term and long-term harm.’
Turning the drinking culture on its ear through alcohol education (DVDs and discussion around use/misuse)— getting young people to see that rather than helping them shed their inhibitions, binge drinking simply masks them—is a big part of FYRST’s approach.
‘We really look at harm minimisation techniques; e.g. discussing controlled drinking strategies and giving out alcohol diaries to record alcohol use to look at patterns/high risk situations/triggers. We also have an emphasis on goal setting.’
In addition, FYRST runs a social activity program, incorporating adventure therapy and recovery, which aims to reduce social isolation, improve self-esteem and provide a source for social engagement without the need for drugs and alcohol.
In the 2015/2016 financial year, FYRST saw 370 young people come through its doors, and success, says Brand, is measured ‘by looking at whether the young person has completed any of their goals set out by themselves in their case plan’.
Basically, she says, experts agree that the sooner we target the problem, the more likely we’ll see success, but changing a social mindset is no easy task.
‘We can’t give up,’ says Brand. ‘I mean, we’re talking about the future of a whole generation of vulnerable young people who need our help.’
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction issues contact (02) 9264 1711 in NSW and Qld or for all other states (03) 8878 4500.
FYRST can be found at salvos.org.au/youthlink.