Social media influencers, meaning people who are heavily followed on one or more social media accounts, often team up with brands to sell products. This marketing technique is achieved with varying levels of stealth and success. Someone as influential and well-known as Kim Kardashian can cause products to sell out of stock, simply by endorsing the product on Instagram or Twitter. While many campaigns have reached great success by paying influencers to interact with and endorse their products, social health campaigns and other issues of public welfare have worked with influencers far less often, especially if the influencer isn’t an extremely famous celebrity. So far, many brands have been able to successfully market products like clothing, food, or technology through the help of influencers who have 40,000 to 80,000 followers, but social issue campaigns, like voting registration, tend to use high profile celebrities to get their point across.
Addict Aide, a french organization that seeks to prevent substance abuse, decided it wouldn’t be shelling out that kind of money for a high profile campaign endorsement. The solution? They created their own influencer, built her social media presence from the ground up, and then used the fake profile to spread their message.
I don’t follow many influencers on social media. I love their aesthetic profiles, but I prefer for my content feed to be mainly composed of people I know in real life. Yet, when I read an article about Louise Delage, the fake persona created by Addict Aide and their ad agency BETC, I noticed two things: 1. She posted the exact type of content that many of my friends and peers like to follow and 2. Had she been a friend of mine, I would not have noticed anything abnormal about her pictures.
But there is something abnormal.
She is drinking in every photo she posts.
When you look at all of the photos together, it seems so obvious that the fake character might have a drinking problem, but in real life, people rarely post several photos of themselves drinking, one after the other within a short period of time. You might see a photo from a friend or peer once per week, and it is mixed into your feed with tons of other images. You could be regularly looking at the evidence that someone you know has an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, and never realize it because you don’t put the pieces together.
Having just turned 21 a couple of weeks ago, I’m acutely aware of my new responsibilities. I can buy a drink or a bottle of wine any time I want, and because I’m a college student, I’m almost constantly surrounded by alcohol (or at the very least, conversation about alcohol, parties, tailgates, and more). At my university, many people are starting to talk more candidly about mental health, but alcoholism and substance abuse are often left out of the conversation. Instead, we treat alcohol abuse like a joke.
Images like these are extremely common on the social media feeds of my peers, and are occasionally given hashtags like #alcoholic for good measure:
Social media content like this as well as popular TV characters who heavily rely on alcohol such as Lucille Bluth on Arrested Development or the cast of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, are supposed to be silly and humorous. Of course this humor trope and normalization of substance abuse also blurs lines when it comes to discerning when someone has an alcohol problem. Many millennials seem to believe that as long as you have a job/make it to class, avoid receiving a DUI, and keep up a healthy appearance, they do not have an alcohol problem and are not in danger of developing one. This is a myth, and it is becoming increasingly important for college students and all young people to be aware that just because you are functioning on a daily basis doesn’t mean you are in the clear. Further, young people need to be better educated on how to spot warning signs of substance abuse in their peers and ways to address them.
For students who experience mental illness, it is paramount that substance use is approached with care, as heavy use of some substances, like alcohol, can worsen depression or anxiety over time. If you notice that you or someone you know seems to be self-medicating a mental problem with alcohol, it is extremely important to find more effective therapies and medication, as the seemingly helpful properties of alcohol won’t last forever.
If you notice that it takes you significantly more alcohol than it used to in order for you to feel tipsy or drunk, that’s another sign you might need to cut back. It’s natural for your body to get continuously more acclimated to alcohol, but if you seem to be building up a tolerance that results in you needing more than a few drinks to feel the effects, you have likely been drinking too heavily. Alcohol limits vary from body to body, so use your discretion and take notes of how many drinks you order at the bar. If the number starts creeping up over the course of a year, its time to cut back.
Finally, know that alcoholism doesn’t happen all at once. You won’t wake up one day and suddenly be an alcoholic. Becoming an addict is a gradual process, which is precisely why many people don’t recognize when their joking love for whiskey and vodka has become a full out addiction. Being drunk on occasion is not a problem, but if you are specifically aiming to get drunk or wasted every time you drink, your relationship with alcohol isn’t healthy. You should be able to enjoy alcohol for its taste or its light effect (i.e. being tipsy at most) without wanting to get constantly drunk. You should also take note that you should avoid drinking alcohol to feel better about something. Sure, if you have a bad day at work, you might want to pour yourself a glass of wine, but if you drink every time you’re in a bad mood, you’ll naturally develop a habit.
If you notice that you have a friend, like Louise Delage, who always has a drink in her hand and/or shows any of the above signs, be sure to have a discussion. If you haven’t recognized the warning signs, its possible that they haven’t recognized them either.