Sunday, April 7, 2019

Only officials drunk on alcohol money would call opioids the 'biggest health crisis'

The maker of OxyContin, Purdue Pharma, and the company’s controlling Sackler family agreed March 26 to pay $270 million to settle an Oklahoma lawsuit claiming they helped create the opioid crisis with aggressive marketing of the painkiller. “The $270 million is less than what the lawyering would have cost Purdue. The did the 'right' thing,” says author Scott Stevens.

This is the first settlement emerging from wave of nearly 2,000 lawsuits against Purdue threatening to push the company a bankruptcy safe-haven, says the author of Look What Dragged the Cat In: The Rise of an Opioid Crisis. In the book, presented in hardcover at academic conferences in Europe in 2018 and now available in e-book, Stevens demonstrates how the neither the drugmaker – nor doctors – are to blame in the 'ab irato' lawsuits. “Are their hands clean? No. But they didn't create this crisis, or the two it's spawned (benzodiazepines and methamphetamine),” according to Stevens.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter announced the settlement, calling the crisis “this nightmarish epidemic” and “the worst public health crisis in our state and nation we’ve ever seen.” Stevens responds, “First, the death toll from opioids in Oklahoma is about 400. They're all tragic. No question. Alcohol kills at least 1,300 a year in that state. If opioids are an epidemic, alcohol is a pandemic that costs their state $4.5 billion a year, and the U.S. 90,000 lives and $250 billion a year.” His numbers are according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “We don't call out the real problem because the alcohol business is an an advertiser, a campaign contributor, and an adored and endorsed part of our culture.”

The fifth book by Wisconsin author, Scott Stevens, calls out the beverage alcohol business and a 'buzz' culture, not pharmaceutical companies and doctors, as the culprits behind the opioid crisis. Stevens says, “If you examine how many opioid-related deaths are alcohol-related, the answer is that they all are. Two thirds of illicit drug users point to alcohol as their first drug, and all of us learn to self-prescribe from alcohol.

The book was released Aug. 23, 2018 at the International Conference on Addiction Therapy & Clinical Reports in Paris, France, capping two-years of research by the author into the escalation of opioid overdoses. “It's the same root cause of every drug 'crisis' we've observed. Cocaine in the 1980s, heroin again in the 1970s and before that the 1920s, and between the two prior heroin crises, a methamphetamine crisis in the 1950s,” says Stevens. “The thread cinching all of them together is alcohol: The drug we don't call a drug or treat as the deadly drug it is. We encourage use of this drug, then when users can't get where they want with alcohol, they up the ante with other, harder drugs. No runner runs a marathon as their first race out.”

The book examines the self-regulation of alcohol-industry ads, the pricing, and availability of alcohol. “There really is a straight-line relationship between the opioid crisis with the gateway drug, alcohol.”

The World Congress on Addiction Science in London in Sept. 2018, as well as the 2018 International Conference on Clinical Psychology in Amsterdam, also were forums for launch of Stevens' work. He's now doing radio and conferences in support of the e-book launch of the book March 26.

Stevens has no ties to the pharmaceutical industry, nor does he practice medicine, yet he finds only moderate culpability for either profession in the rise of the opioid situation. “They were accomplices to some degree, but we fail to look deeper. What causes problems is one. We just have this fear of tagging the alcohol business because of our glorification of drinking.” The book points out that society also has a notion that anything resembling reining in the alcohol business looks like Prohibition, generally considered a failure. Americans also don't 'want to believe alcohol is a drug or a problem outside of car wrecks, cirrhosis, and disease of alcoholism. “We're told we can drink responsibly when there is no responsible way to drink a toxin and known carcinogen. Buying into the glamour of the drug seduced Americans right into opioids.”

Americans defend the gateway drug, says the author. Among his solutions is a strategy like the anti-smoking campaign that began with the Master Settlement Agreement for tobacco companies in the 1990s. “We defend drinking as some sort of rite. All we're doing by guarding drinking as a personal choice is sacrificing our own children for a product with zero life-extending or life-saving properties.”

Stevens is author of five alcohol, health, and recovery books and is principal of He is a founding influencer of the world’s largest medical portal, He Chaired the 2018 International Conference on Addiction Therapy and Clinical Reports in Paris, France, where Look What Dragged the Cat In was officially launched. He's also the Chair for Addiction Science 2018, in London, UK.

Image byTom Baker, used with permission.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Blame the opioid maker? Right church, wrong pew

opioid crisis, opioid epidemic, addiction,

A new article appearing in VOX notes that one member of the Sackler family, longtime overseers of Purdue Pharma, is helping the treatment industry clean up what the opioid crisis cat dragged in. Richard Sackler, former president of Purdue Pharma, is listed on the patent application for a new form of buprenorphine. Buprenorphine (trade names Buprenex, Butrans, Probuphine, and Belbuca) is an opiod agonist used in the medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid addiction.  The new product is a fast-dissolving wafer, designed to keep those administered the dose from cheeking the medication and sharing/selling it.

On one hand, 'Shouldn't we be applauding ANY help going to those who need it?' is the easy question. That question is buried under the emotion of a very traumatic crisis, however. One editorial on the article went so far as to call Sackler the 'devil incarnate,' And the spin on the article is that Purdue helped spawn the opioid crisis with its drug, OxyContin, and Stackler made bank on that drug and now seeks to profit from cleaning up the mess.

Not so fast. OxyContin and Purdue are not the drugmakers that created this crisis. The drugmakers that created this crisis, every crisis before it, and the crises emerging now, are not in the pharmaceutical industry. The drugmakers who have groomed us for drug use, drug abuse, and drug addiction make the gateway drug, alcohol.

Two thirds of drug abusers identify alcohol as the first drug they used, according to an American Addiction Centers 2018 survey. The rest of us learned to take drugs from our cultural acceptance and endorsement of drug use aka drinking. What we ignore, we permit, what we permit, we condone.

The blame-game, legislation, lawsuits, etc. target Big Pharma, sketchy doctors, China, and dope dealers. Right church, wrong pew. Look What Dragged the Cat In details how the opioid crisis (spoiler: it's a crisis, not an epidemic) really emerged (spoiler: it wasn't the Sacklers) and how we can use the tragedy of this crisis to prevent the next one.

Stevens is author of five alcohol, health, and recovery books and is principal of He is a founding influencer of the world’s largest medical portal, He Chaired the 2018 International Conference on Addiction Therapy and Clinical Reports in Paris, France, where Look What Dragged the Cat In was officially launched. He's also the Chair for Addiction Science 2018, in London, UK.

Image by Santalucia Art Inc., used with permission.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Horrible medical advice in print when doctors shill for the alcohol industry

Times-Colonist doctor uncaps a bottle of fooling-yourself alcohol-industry propaganda.

'Moderate beer drinking never killed anyone.' Not all physicians are this foolish with advice advocating drinking a toxin and known carcinogen. Sadly, many still buy in to junk science touting health benefits of drinking alcohol. There are ZERO health benefits to even 'moderate' consumption of this drug in evidence-based studies.

The full article is at The Doctor Game: Moderate beer-drinking never killed anyone,  The gist of it is "The secret for longevity remains the same — following a healthy lifestyle early in life and sticking with it. Too many attempt it unsuccessfully at the end of life.

"Add it all up, and it’s moderation throughout life that wins the day. Just consider alcohol. At least 20 studies show that moderate drinkers live longer than either teetotallers (sic) or alcoholics. [20 wish-thing observational studies which do not take into account other lifestyle factors] Alcohol lowers blood cholesterol [false, it increases triglycerides] and decreases the risk of a fatal blood clot [also false, it is a leading contributor to stroke risk].

"So beer in moderation never killed anyone on the Mayflower, or anywhere else. Beer contains no cholesterol, fat, triglycerides or sugar, and is low in sodium. It also contains vitamins, calcium for bones [untrue nutritional claims], potassium to lower blood pressure [alcohol use increases, worsens hypertension] and magnesium to regulate the heart’s rhythm. [Widely discredited heart health benefits.]

"The government doesn’t prevent the sale of cars because some idiots drive too fast. Yet ironically, and possibly criminally, it prohibits beer and liquor companies from stating that moderate drinking is a healthy habit. My advice is buy a bathroom scale and step on it every day. This will help to keep you a moderate consumer of food, alcohol, and exercise. If the scale continues to show increasing weight, need I say more?"

Yes, you need to say something honest about the drug you're proclaiming safe in moderation. There is no safe level when consuming a toxin and carcinogen, doctor, according to scientists who don't shill for the alcohol industry. And 'moderate' beer drinking increases accident risk with impairment beginning at .02 blood alcohol concentration (BAC). 

Vladislavs Gorniks image, used with permission.

Stevens is author of four alcohol, health, and recovery books and is principal of He is a founding influencer of the world’s largest medical portal, He will Chair the 2018 International Conference on Addiction Therapy and Clinical Reports in Paris, France.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Look What Dragged the Cat In: The rise of an opioid crisis

Excerpted from the 2018 USA Best Book Winner, Look What Dragged the Cat In.
The decade of the 2010’s shelled hospitals and first responders with an explosion of opioid-related illness, injury, and death. Preventable drug overdoses tallied 54,793 lives lost in 2016 – an increase of 391 percent since 1999. Accidental drug overdose deaths increased 327 percent over the same period. The majority of OD deaths (38,000) involve opioids, The drug category most frequently involved in opioid overdoses and growing at the fastest pace includes fentanyl, fentanyl analogs, and tramadol. The fentanyl category of opioids accounted for nearly half of opioid-related deaths. The dirty cat in the litter, heroin, accounted for the second highest number of deaths, claiming 14,606 lives.
America struggles with what the opioid cat dragged in: Hard-to-treat opioid addictions, fatal relapses, and needless loss of mainly young lives. Now legislators, first responders, treatment pros, and those in the medical field are forced to focus not on the death toll the cat dragged in, but instead what dragged the cat in.
Every opioid related death is alcohol related
The abuse of drugs, regardless of classification, begins with the permissiveness granted the world’s most lethal drug and third-leading cause of all preventable deaths: Alcohol. It’s a straight line.
Nearly every non-Muslim civilization on this rock has embraced alcohol. As a result, ours is largely a numbing planet, especially in the sedation-happy Americas. This is the root. This is the seed of the opium trade that has gone unstemmed since prehistory. There is legit medical use for opium derivatives: What has driven growth is demand – not by the sick but by people who cannot get the mind alteration they desire through alcohol use alone.
Alcoholics and non-alcoholics alike drink the first drink for the same reason: To relieve a stress. In the U.S., which has a laissez faire agenda toward alcohol since its prohibition failure, the culture embraces a drinking lifestyle. Americans normalize alcohol use. In other words, Americans (like many cultures) normalize drug use. The 1960’s have nothin’ on the 2010’s.
What you ignore, you permit. What you permit, you condone.
Opioid abuse happens when a person can’t get where they want to get with alcohol. The opioid crisis wasn’t created by doctors overprescribing, manufacturers wooing doctors, China shipping heroin and cheaper fentanyl via cartels and the U.S. mail. Drinking, especially binge drinking, is the pandemic that dragged in the opioid ‘epidemic.’ Americans condone the buzz, the sedation. We created this monster on our own.
What’s the way out?
Legislative attempts to curb use of potentially lethal drugs resemble shooting an arrow and then drawing a target around where it hit. Locking up dealers and traffickers, creating prescription databases and prescribing limits, and promoting Narcan availability all deal with control of the supply and its aftermath. The demand is unchanged. Within a cultural adoration of the buzz, our current crisis can only be curbed by control of the demand. If a drug user wants a drug, theywill get that drug. It’s the American freedom thing.
In 1967, 72 percent of adult men smoked. Today, 72 percent don’t. Prevention works. If there is genuine interest in healthy outcomes and preventing premature death from opioids, Americans’ permissiveness of the starter or feeder or gateway or predecessor drug has to be addressed on five levels to reduce demand for all antecessor drugs.
  • Advertising agencies court alcohol manufacturers with a promise of creating demand for the drug. You can ban advertising without banning the product. When cigarette marketing/advertising was banned, demand dropped without banning the product. The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) studied bans in 20 countries over 26 years. The results indicate that an increase of one ban could reduce alcohol consumption by five to eight percent.
  • Public drinking encourages drug use. Smoke-free regs cut down on the demand by curtailing where cigarettes can be smoked. Applying the same model for drinking – instead of popping up a brew pub on every corner – can reduce demand. The idea of having a cocaine bar on every corner is absurd, but a pub peddling a drug that kills more people (89,000 Americans per year) is somehow acceptable. The availability of alcohol can be regulated either through restricting the hours or days it can be sold or by reducing the number of alcohol retail outlets, according the a World Health Organization (WHO) study. Logicaly, reduced sales hours have been found to be effective in lowering consumption. In the former Soviet union in the mid-1980s, strict alcohol regulation, which included among other measures restricted hours and fewer outlets, led to a dramatic reduction.
  • The ‘Smoking Stinks’ campaign brought an anti-smoking message down to the earliest grades. A modest effort to create similar anti-drinking messages demonstrating health risks of even moderate use (see will stunt demand by discouraging the very first drink of the gateway drug.The American Journal of Public Health analysis of the anti-smoking campaign suggests that per capita consumption would have been one-fifth to one-third larger than it actually is, had the years of anti-smoking publicity never materialized.
  • Increase the tax on the gateway drug. The bottom line is that many states and municipalities balance their bottom lines with so-called ‘sin taxes.’ The sin taxes on alcohol haven’t kept pace with inflationThese taxes are usually based on the amount of beverage purchased (not on the sales price), so their effects can erode over time due to inflation if they are not adjusted regularly. The Community Preventive Services Task Force (CPSTF) recommends increasing taxes on the sale of alcoholic beverages, on the basis of strong evidence of the effectiveness of this policy in reducing excessive alcohol consumption and related harms. Opioid use is a related harm. The CPSTF is an independent, non-federal panel of public health and prevention experts that provides evidence-based findings and recommendations about community preventive services, programs, and other interventions aimed at improving population health.
  • Many will argue that legalizing recreational use of marijuana will reduce opioid abuse and erroneously point to Colorado as an example. (By the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) numbers, you can call BS: Colorado’s death rate from opioid overdose is barely in the top half of the state-by-state death-rate comparison … if you wanted to complete the morbid, pointless comparison. One death is too many.) What’s entirely missing from the debate is that no evidence exists that encouraging recreational use of another drug furthers public health in general. Marijuana is revenue-neutral when you subtract societal, medical, and legal costs.
When we rethink the drink we can douse the pandemic that begat the current opioid crisis. Legislators and treatment experts must lead the transition from managing aftermaths of the current crisis to prevention of the next one. And phase out the ancient alcohol crisis – the elephant in the room – America ignores.

Stevens is author of four alcohol, health, and recovery books and is principal of He is a founding influencer of the world’s largest medical portal, He will Chair the 2018 International Conference on Addiction Therapy and Clinical Reports in Paris, France.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Don't become an ugly Christmas sweater: Dodge the holiday minefields

It'll come to you...
Relapse traps sneakily pop up on any page of the calendar, but the 63 days between Halloween and New Year's Day can be the trickiest gauntlet to run. Sequestering in a bunker? Not an option. Here are nine tips for not sweating the season of celebrations:

1) Stay out of your medicine chest. Cough and cold season is here. It's especially easy to overdo the cough meds. In typical addict fashion, the think the dosage on the label is only a suggestion and if a small amount works, the whole bottle will really kick the symptoms to the curb. Not so. And the little buzz from an OD of the over-the-counter drug can lead back to the drug of choice.

2) Stay out of your medicine chest: Part II. Another relapse trap in the medicine chest is sleep aids. With the time change and extra holiday-season stress, sleep is a casualty of the calendar. Alcohol is a depressant. Sleep aids are depressants. The brain doesn't make such an exact distinction between the two and, historically, drinkers have used alcohol as a sleep aid – or excused their drinking by saying it helps them sleep. It isn't just the prescription sleep aid like Roseanne's favorite, Ambien. It's also the OTC one, and especially concoctions like Motrin PM or Tylenol PM.

3) Find sober celebrations. Not as rare as you might think. If you're timid, take someone along with you who might be even newer to sobriety. If there aren't celebrations, it could be time for a diversion like a museum or pick a dry theater and watch The Last Jedi. All the older kids are doing it.

4) Bail out. There is nothing wrong with the word 'no.' We were all pretty creative with excuses for our drinking. If you are even slightly apprehensive about an event, put the same creativity to use for why you can't go. And if you're busted telling a little white one… isn't it better than possibly challenging your sobriety? Real friends understand.

5) If you can't bail, bring candy. Seriously. Satisfying an oral fixation can make a difference. The taste on your palate will make alcohol flavorings less inviting, too. If you've ever had a beer on top of a candy cane, you know.

6) Never stay late if you do go. Our reputations as the last soldiers standing – gone. Be the first leaving. Everyone has seen a dreaded morning after, or the photos of the night before, and uttered the words, 'I shoulda left way earlier.' The more tired you get, the weaker your defenses become. My grandmother's rule was that nothing good ever happens after 10 p.m. anyway.

7) Go help another alcoholic who might be struggling. The twelve-steppers founded their fellowship on this simple act. Even if you're not a twelve-stepper or vow to never become one, give this a try. It works. There's a flawed thinking that the holidays are an inappropriate time to challenge someone who's challenged by drugs including alcohol. It may be the best gift you ever give the person with the disease of addiction – and the family around him or her. Inside every sick person sick with this disease is a trembling, sorry, sad person dying to feel well again. Invite him or her out onto the path to recovery. In the case of the disease of alcoholism, there's no worse time than waiting for tomorrow or the New Year. You wouldn't imagine postponing treatment for a chronic, fatal, progressive disease like cancer. Why postpone it for a chronic, fatal, progressive disease like alcoholism? If the worry is that it wouldn't be the holiday without that person near, what have the past few holidays told you about that… and what if there isn't a next holiday?

8) Breathe. The holidays are loaded with financial stress, family stress, traffic stress, cold-and-flu stress, and end-of-the-year work stress in addition to the normal, everyday stress of life. Alcoholics and non-alcoholics alike drink to relieve stress. There isn't a single stressor that is cured by drinking: There isn't one that got worse because you chose to just breathe rather than drinking it off the calendar.

9) Be brutally honest with yourself. The biggest charge in the holiday minefield is in the eight-inch gap between your left ear and your right. Nearly every relapse comes in the collision between reality and the five words, 'It won't happen to me.' Here's the very alcoholic reason why I still have Ibuprofen PM in my own nightstand: Because it won't happen to me, the second warning above is only for those other guys, right? Right.

By the way, these nine aren't just for the end of the year and the start of the new one. They work anytime.

– Scott Stevens is the author of five award-winning alcohol and health books, The A-Files: Alcohol A-Z DVD series,, and the Alcohology app for Android. He is a founding influencer of the world's largest medical portal HealthTap.  Image by Marina Gloria Gallud Carbonell used with permission.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Wisconsin proposes creating the next generation of damaged adults because profit trumps health

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R - Burlington), became the voice of reason by not throwing in with special interests' Nov. 8 attempt to lower Wisconsin's drinking age, effectively killing the proposal's future. (JournalSentinel article.) Alcohol is a toxin and known carcinogen. Instead of encouraging more people to drink by lowering the drinking age to 19, Wisconsin might want to focus on educating more kids about this drug.

The suggestions by the bill's sponsors that lowering the age to legally use this drug will save money is nearly as absurd as the concept that drinking a toxin 'in moderation' somehow has health benefits. At legal age 21, alcohol use – all alcohol use, not just drinking and driving or the disease of alcoholism – costs the economy $250 billion a year, mostly in lost productivity. That's enough to buy every man, woman, and child in the U.S. a 55-inch, HDTV for Christmas… every year. Increasing the number of legal drinkers is going to reduce the cost? A fine piece of fiction.

Of greater importance is the health impact. Increasing the drinking age was never about highway money or reducing drinking and driving, although they are lovely benefits. There are health consequences for developing brains. Cognitive damage in a developing brain lasts well past the hangover. Drinking in any amount reduces brain myelin, impairs cognitive and behavior control, and physically alter brain structure. This. Toxin. Changes. DNA. Lowering the drinking age will ultimately lead to impairments in brain function in adulthood. Since the brain's frontal lobes develop into the mid-20's, if we want to reduce social costs associated with drinking, raising the age of legal use would be more practical.

Brain damage is so significant it overshadows the cancer risk of a known carcinogen. The concern is especially acute for women drinkers of the only dietary link to an increased risk of breast cancer. The younger a woman starts, the higher the risk. Breast tissue is developing at age 21... again a case for increasing the drinking age rather than lowering it.

The public and political appetite (FYI: Beverage alcohol is among the top-spenders in elections) for raising the drinking age isn't there. And it isn't practical. What's practical is beginning alcohol education at earlier grades in the same fashion we start tobacco education. At it's simplest, it starts will calling alcohol a drug.

With that in mind, shame on the sponsors for suggesting the fictional cost savings from lowering the drinking age would be used for drug treatment. Treatment of the same drug you're peddling? Or were you only suggesting that to ride the coattails of the public interest in the opioid topic when you're fully aware that the accountability for actually spending the money for treatment doesn't exist?

Scott Stevens, is the author of four alcohol books including the December 2016 release, I Can’t See The Forest With All These Damn Trees In The Way: The Health Consequences of Alcohol. Get the new BookLocker title now on Amazon (,, and everywhere you buy books.  Click Alcopocalypse for the author’s 2017 Alcohol Awareness Month whitepaper. Image by  Peter Lecko, used with permission.

Image by Andrew Jalbert, used with permission.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Michelob targets teens on Instagram: Self-regulation's epic fail

michelob, ad, alcohol
In the process of running an ad on social media platforms, a business is able to target ads by any combination of  'interests' or location or age or gender. This ad above was delivered to a high school senior, Sunday, Oct. 8, in his Instagram feed. His user profile indicates he is seventeen. The browser history shows ZERO visits to alcohol profiles or pages.

Anheuser-Busch Companies, maker of Michelob Ultra, is one of several alcohol manufacturers capitalizing on the perfect storm of the untamed Wild West of social media combined with an industry permitted to police itself.

Although alcohol is a legal substance for adults age 21 or older, it is the leading drug used by underage American youth. The drug is one of the three leading risk factors for global disease burden according to study appearing in Lancet in 2012.  In adolescents in particular, alcohol use increases the likelihood of injury, addiction and death, and of course the risky behaviors teens are known to find tempting... but it also damages a brain that isn't fully developed until their 20's.  

Exposure to alcohol marketing has been identified as one factor that may lead to underage alcohol consumption. While nobody really needs a 'longitudinal study' to come to that conclusion, one was done and the hard numbers appeared in Addiction in Oct. 2016. A previous article noted that the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Georgetown University (CAMY) has found that youth in the United States were 96 times more likely per capita to see an ad promoting alcohol than an industry ad discouraging underage drinking.

No clear rules, no independent review of content

Industry watchdog, California-based AlcoholJustice, keeps tabs on the sketchy practices engaged by the alcohol makers and the ad agencies pimping them. "Alcohol ads are ubiquitous on public transit, billboards, sports stadiums, and digital media. Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter offer inexpensive, virtually unregulated promotional platforms to alcohol producers and marketers, who encourage youth to build relationships with their brands."

Alcohol ads are shown to a somewhat gullible, very impressionable, and ultimately naive audience that isn't even old enough to purchase, possess. or consume the drug because there's a 'bro code' in the alcohol industry: Their ad policies are voluntary and self-regulated. As a result, teens are going to get served the ads because the fox is supervising the chicken coop. 

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has guidelines defining everything from blogs and social networks to video sharing sites and micro blogging services as 'advertising.' As such, "any use of social media by industry members is subject to the same limitations, requirements and restrictions as any other form of advertising previously has been, among other guidelines...

... ads must be limited to an audience where at least 70 percent are of drinking age. 

It's a guideline, remember. And it's self-policed. 

Where does the 70 percent figure come from? The overall census of the U.S. says 70 percent of us are 21 or older. The census of social media platforms doesn't mate up well with the overall population however. Pew Research (click on their link to the complete .pdf report) shows 72 percent of its users are under age 18. 

Of the 500,000 advertisers on Instagram, you wouldn't count on seeing a business that has a self-imposed rule of not advertising to minors

By the way, Instagram only appeals to four percent of adults over 65 years of age. As for American teenagers, in a Piper Jaffray semi-annual Taking Stock With Teens survey, 32 percent described Instagram as their most important social network, second only to Snapchat. Statista shows the share of teenagers in the United States who were Instagram users as of March 2015, sorted by gender and age group. During that period of time, 64 percent of female U.S. teens aged 15 to 17 years used the social networking app. 

Advertising a label or a company to establish brand identity is what companies do. In the uber-competitive beverage industry, brand loyalty is everything. It would appear the alcohol makers are attempting to establish their brand with would-be users of their beverage when they're old enough. Which all seems odd when we're talking about a toxic, carcinogenic drug rather than Kool-Aid.

We do more to curtail junk-food advertising aimed at young people than we do to prevent them from soaking in alcohol ads. “There’s very strong evidence that underage drinkers are not only exposed to the advertising, but they also assimilate the messages,” says James D. Sargent, MD. “That process moves them forward in their drinking behavior.” Sargent is the study author of a Jan. 2016 report in JAMA linking the ads kids see and what they do with the information. He’s professor of pediatrics at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine. And he’s summarized the same message a dozen other reports have stated since 1996.
"Underage drinking harms teens, their families and their communities,” adds Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Tom Frieden. "Exposing teens to alcohol advertising undermines what parents and other concerned adults are doing to raise healthy kids.”

If OxyContin was advertised to teens on social media, the FTC, mainstream media, and the Attorneys General of 50 states would be on drug maker Purdue Pharma like a hobo on a ham sandwich. A deadlier teen drug is promoted on teens' favorite app and everyone takes a nap.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has overall oversight of advertising and has been conducting a study for more than a year on alcohol-beverage companies’ use of online advertising, with the results yet to be released. FTC will focus on age verification – a subject the TTB guidelines on social media do not address.

Like the Michelob Ultra sponsored post shown above, kids are being delivered ads where they live: Instagram and other popular platforms that are saturated with adolescent users. They'll get Ultra right alongside the selfies, Selena Gomez posts, and the snap of the pizza slice a friend is about to down. Self-regulation.  It works until it doesn't. Just ask the financial services industry.

Don't just fix the shocks, fill the potholes.

Even the addiction recovery professional and paraprofessionals nap on such front-end, front-line issues. Things like this advertising issue on Instagram are barely on the radar of recovery advocates, be they treatment centers or interventionists. They're overburdened as it is with treating the ill and have little time or disposable assets to address prevention. Aside from the massive economic and public health concern America's insatiable appetite for alcohol creates (see related video), no alcoholic ever became alcoholic without taking the first drink. Period.

Certainly not everyone who drinks becomes alcoholic, but a report from the National Institutes for Health definitively links teen use with higher alcoholism risk later in life. In a nerdy analysis, it would seem a recovery advocate would be sacrificing job security by supporting prevention efforts. Not true. There will always be drug users and those genetically predisposed to the disease of addiction. Recovery advocacy is crucial... prevention is essential. It's like being part mechanic, part street crew: You put new shocks on cars that have run through potholes  and sooner rather than later you just fix the stupid potholes. Instagram's Michelob ad...that's a pothole.

For more reading on alcohol advertising, see 

Alcohol advertising in sports blasted for 'grooming child drinkers,' bans becoming popular internationally

Scott Stevens, is the author of four alcohol books including the December 2016 release, I Can’t See The Forest With All These Damn Trees In The Way: The Health Consequences of Alcohol. Get the new BookLocker title now on Amazon (,, and everywhere you buy books.  Click Alcopocalypse for the author’s 2017 Alcohol Awareness Month whitepaper. Image by  Peter Lecko, used with permission.