There are signs sobriety is creating the “sizzle” it needs to achieve the popularity it deserves.
Low-risk drinking is, on the face of it, the stuff of marketing executives’ dreams, a robust product with undisputed benefits, available to all at negative cost.
Yes, negative cost. It is not some something-for-nothing deal. This is a something-for-money-back deal. It is both beneficial and profitable for its adopters.
While easing the load on our wallets, it improves our sleep, relieves depression and anxiety, promotes clearer thinking, boosts resilience, reduces mistakes and accidents, and avoids disease.
Drinking rates, nevertheless, barely budge from year to year. Imagine it: health payoffs and dollar bills lying around across the globe and yet few of us trouble to pick them up.
Is this a rational choice? Is heavy drinking really worth the price we pay? It seems doubtful. So, then, what is going wrong?
Knowledge and desire
It is partly misunderstanding. The scientific findings around alcohol are counterintuitive and constantly undermined, as I found while writing my book Alcohol Companion.
A stats-fest tickles our cortices but does not push the buttons which guide our humdrum choices.
Everyday decisions are rarely made through agonising rational computation. Think of a trip to a supermarket. We lob things in our trolleys mostly to answer emotional and sensory appeals.
We need to connect with choices on a non-intellectual level for them to be easy and enjoyable. This applies to rational choices as much as self-defeating ones.
Marketing people know this. Winning our decisions is about “selling the sizzle, not the sausage”.
It is not just meat though. We prefer crisped rice with added Snap, Crackle and Pop too. An iPhone is no better, yet is still more desirable.
Better health labelling, though important to have, will not be enough to provide the sizzle that makes low-risk alcohol choices desirable in the way which shifts our behaviour.
Low-risk drinking needs sizzle to turn its stock of wholesome statistical sausagemeat into a tempting consumer choice.
Turning up the gas
It is starting to happen. The online world is fulfilling our need for superficial socialising, an area where alcohol once reigned supreme. Psychology, meanwhile, is giving more insight into happiness.
These developments are being met by the arrival of a new generation of alcohol-free alternatives allowing us low-hassle alcohol opt-outs, with a positive placebo-effect thrown in.
The contribution of public health professionals, counsellors, treatment providers, campaigners and help groups, meanwhile, are being supplemented by fresh new communities like Club Soda and Soberistas.
The payoff is potentially huge. Globally alcohol is among the top four reasons for us to lose healthy years of life and a major contributor to crime rates and countless lesser cock-ups.
Reducing the impact by any significant amount would deliver benefits across society, particularly for poorer people. It would also free resources to tackle other problems.
Putting reasonable choices in attractive packages is as essential as the science they are composed of. Sobriety is becoming increasingly tempting and this is worth celebrating. ■