Maintaining the rage

I was thinking about Wolfie today. You know Wolfie. Maybe you call him Al, or your addict voice, or the devil on your shoulder. Whatever your term for it, you’ve probably found it very helpful to anthropomorphise the part of you that enables your addiction, and – this is crucial – to separate it from yourself.

One of the bewildering things about being an addict, both when you’re in the throes of the addiction and once you’re out the other side, is the cognitive dissonance that’s required to maintain your habit. Once you’re out, it’s easy to feel total incredulity; was that really me? Did I say and think and do those things? Why would I…I mean, integrity and generosity are part of my personality and yet… It can go on and on, that reasoning and self flagellation. One way to make peace with it is to accept that the addict voice is inside you, but isn’t the true you; its only focus, its one motivation, is to feed the addiction. Questioning its ways is rather like a newly pregnant woman wondering why she’s doing something as illogical as throwing up her breakfast. There’s a parasite inside her, is why, and it plays by its own rules.

My Wolfie is an abusive partner, by the way. That’s the metaphor I find most useful, to understand what went on and who I became and why. But that’s not what this post is about.

This post is about the fact that even as we anthromorphise our addictions, bestow them with names so as to drain them of power, we divert attention away from the biggest baddest wolf of them all: the alcohol industry.


Alcohol is the only drug left that is able to advertise freely, and the people who profit from it make the most of it. Not drinking is so unusual that it’s considered socially unacceptable in many cultures, including my own. I met a teetotal bloke the other day who told me that he was so sick of the judgement that he had started claiming to be an alcoholic in recovery, because at least that gave him a ‘reason’ not to drink. It’s madness.

Western society favours individualism. The idea of ‘taking responsibility for yourself’ and doing things on your own and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is invested with huge moral power. Nobody wants to be seen to be whining, or shifting responsibility, or blaming others. Don’t be a tattletale, we tell our children.

But to press the narrative of individual responsibility is to ignore something that we all already know, which is that advertising works. Huge corporations, filled with thought leaders who are highly qualified in their fields, do not spend billions of dollars every year on a losing strategy. They advertise because advertising works, and they pay extremely dedicated people extremely large amounts of money to come up with ways to make that advertising more effective and more ubiquitous all the time.

Here is something else that we all know. Alcohol is a drug. It is, by its very nature, addictive. Not everybody gets addicted to it, but a lot of people do. It’s about one in ten, in fact.

So we take an addictive drug, and we allow the people who sell that drug to spend vast amounts of money on selling it to us, more and more of it, in more insidious ways all the time. And some of us do what all that advertising is designed to make us do, which is drink regularly. And some of us do what the drug is designed to make us do, which is get addicted to it.

And then what do we do? We call it a disease. We call it Wolfie. We call it a personal struggle with our inner demons, and we admit our failings and we spend the rest of our fucking lives worrying about ‘falling’ once more, strategising to slip through the cracks in the huge net thrown over us by the behemoth alcohol industry, and apologising to our friends for the inconvenience while we do it.

I spent today writing an article about the hidden alcohol in food, because it’s not enough that the stuff infiltrates the rest of our lives, now we have to be wary about eating it as well. I included tips on how to refuse your great-aunt’s tiramisu without offending her, because obviously we, the sober ones, are the problem here, and we don’t want any awkwardness, right?

Today, I am maintaining the rage. It’s not personal rage. Not drinking is not a problem for me right now, and I’m happy to accept that I’m not going to drink again. It’s rage against the industry that spends a fortune on selling us lies, and makes us sick and weak and desperately unhappy, and against which, for some reason, we never push back. Because we don’t want to be killjoys, or ruin the fun for the normies, or look like whingers. Because it’s our fault we’re alcoholics, and it’s our struggle to face. Because, for some reason, even those of us who are direct victims of the alcohol industry still feel like we need to include a caveat – of course I’m not saying nobody should be able to enjoy a crisp glass of white wine! – defending it.

Fuck that, you guys. Seriously. This is total crap, and it needs to end.


14 thoughts on “Maintaining the rage

  1. Great post. So many thoughts but the two that spring immediately to mind are:
    That Jeff and I just wrapped recording what is arguably the “Holiday” episode of the Since Right Now Pod where I referenced having to give up tiramisu in sobriety;
    And, Have you watched “Drinking and how it changed my life,” The TEDx talk by Ann Dowsett-Johnston? It’s terrific and dovetails nicely with this post. I’ve got it here:

  2. Allie, I read this and thought, “I love this woman.” You’re so right! More and more these days I think of being sober as a powerful act of resistance. The booze problem is not just personal. It’s a huge social issue, and it should make us all angry. Good to hear you talking about this. Rage on, lady! xo

  3. one set of statistics that I think is vitally important to understanding the alcohol industry’s tactics is the profile of alcohol consumption. looking at what proportion of drinkers make up what volume of alcohol sales. there’s some typical data, for the US, here:

    the shocking fact is that the top ten percent of drinkers in the US consume 73.85 drinks per week (always knew I was in the top ten percent…). but the corollary to that is that everyone else is drinking hardly anything.

    the norm that the alcohol advertising industry is portraying to us is as fake as Kim Kardashian. it is NOT the case that ‘everyone’ is drinking merrily but responsibly. the alcohol industry portrays a ‘norm’ of regular, moderate consumption, whereas in fact 60% of Americans consume half a drink or less a week.

    and the commercial fist in the velvet glove is that the alcohol industry has a vested interest at keeping those heavy drinkers going, because they make up such a vast proportion of their sales. as the article says,

    ‘The top 10% of drinkers account for more than half of all alcohol consumed in the U.S. The heaviest drinkers are of greatly disproportionate importance to the sales and profitability of the alcoholic beverage industry. If the top decile could be induced to curb their consumption to that of the next lower group (the ninth decile) then total ethanol sales would fall by 60%.’

    yup. FALL BY SIXTY PERCENT. how do you like them apples, alcohol industry?

    and that is why the best proven mechanism for reducing alcohol consumption, minimum pricing, is being fought tooth and nail through the Scottish courts by the booze lawyers. that’s why the sanctimonious piping of the drink-industry sponsored website telling us how to moderate our consumption is a whited sepulchre.

    because they WANT us to drink at harmful levels. because that’s where their market lies.

    well, not to me. no more. yes – absolutely. fuck ’em. fuck ’em sideways and every which way till Christmas. spread the word. maintain the rage! hope this wasn’t too long a comment…thank you for another great post, Allie.

    • Too long? Are you kidding, Prim? I was typing in a white hot rage and also against the clock earlier, so I didn’t stop and check any of the stats I knew were out there. This comment is my favourite thing ever. Thank you!

  4. Hear hear Allie! I met someone senior in the UK Recovery Movement and I was saying how angry I was about it all, effectively apologising for my anger, and they said ‘Don’t lose that anger – it’s what fuels us’. I would share a link to a brilliant South Park drinks advert parody which came out last week and I shared on my blog but the language is very ripe so I’ll leave it to you and your readers to go search for South Park: Drinking Ad – Please Drink Responsibly on Youtube if you want to. It sums it up perfectly 😉

  5. Excellent post. Excellent replies (especially appreciated the statistics shared by Primrose). I’m only recently sober and am braced for the inevitable onslaught of holiday advertising (who doesn’t love those Budweiser Clydesdales?), but what surprises me is the extent to which drinking permeates so much of television programming. I’ve always enjoyed The Big Bang theory and continue to watch reruns. Now that I’m not drinking, I cannot help but be amazed by how much Leonard and Penny are. Their wine consumption nearly rivals my own (back in the day)! And this is a show that is geared primarily to young adults (many of whom, statistically speaking, are destined to be alcoholics).

  6. The devil on my shoulder I call it – whispering in my ear. He is always there talking, I just chose to ignore him these days. I decided that as early on I couldn’t shut him up so…. “oh he is talking again is he – ignore”…. “again… ignore”… etc. etc. until I realised I virtually never hear him anymore

  7. So ten percent of Americans meet the criteria for having a problem with alcohol, and ten percent of drinkers are heavy users responsible for 60% of alcohol sales in America. I’ll bet there’s a lot of overlap between those deciles.

    Thing is, that also means that 90% of people drink responsibly. So I can’t agree with banning a substance that is used properly by nine out of ten people. For most Americans, alcohol advertising may influence brand preference, but probably not the decision to drink or not in the first place. The fact that the vast majority of Americans drink little to nothing, despite being bombarded by advertising, is evidence of this. That being said, the top ten percent is probably going to drink no matter what, and they already have their products and brands of choice set in stone.

    Remember, plenty of people had alcohol problems before advertising was ever invented. And plenty of people also have problems with heroin, weed, and other drugs, even though those products aren’t advertised at all. So really, alcohol advertising doesn’t have the problem; the top ten percent of drinkers do.

  8. Pingback: do we even know what motivates us to change our behaviour? | taking a new path

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