Addiction is a harmful disorder that plagues every society on earth. In North America, a greater awareness is being brought to the subject of addiction and more and more people are receiving the treatment they need and the respect their condition calls for. However, there is another element of North American society that is working against healthy perceptions of addiction: marketing. Every medium that can support advertising depicts excessive consumption of addictive substances and activities. Why? Because the marketing world has no respect for the seriousness of addiction and are willing to profit from it instead.
Marketers do not simply sell an addictive product or activity. They sell the image that goes along with it. They portray alcohol consumption as nothing but a great time, smoking as a nod toward how cool a person is and sex as a romantic high with no side effects. Most of us are aware that these images are a misrepresentation. While they are correct part of the time, they in no way represent the hangovers, diseases and feelings of lowness that come with overusing these substances and activities. Instead, the models and aesthetics in the ad show images of pure bliss, frozen in time. They portray the substance or activity as common, rewarding and something that everyone needs to achieve.
The problem with this, of course, is that addicts see these advertisements and their struggle is enhanced. It leads people viewing the advertisement to believe the substance or activity could not possibly be harmful if it is so mainstream and desirable. This makes light of a situation that can become fatally serious. Addictive substances and activities have a light side and a dark side, as well as a historically large effect on those who use them, yet only the light side is advertised, creating a false sense of security within the person who experiments with the substance or activity. The lack of concern the marketing industry has shown for the way it misrepresents addictive substances and behaviors is alarming.
The marketing world would like us to think it plays a responsible role in addiction and awareness, however, the truth about marketing is apparent anywhere ad space is sold. Marketers secretly want addicts to remain addicts, because it means they will be consumers for life. Marketers that advertise addictive substances or activities for sale appreciate the business that addicts give them and they are hoping addicts will respond to the ads they create with business. The more severe the addiction, the higher the level of consumerism, because the best consumer is an addict.
This trend of capitalizing on people’s addiction tendencies is a trademark of capitalism. Ever since the 1800’s, private businesses have been falsely marketing their products as the best on the market, life changing and without any side effects. In a free market, people are allowed to stretch the truth in their advertising to beat out the competition. This is a destructive tactic, especially for those who are struggling desperately with addiction. There are already many triggers and opportunities to relapse that addicts encounter even without advertising encouraging them to indulge in their addiction.
Advertisements for an addictive substance or activity work in opposition to addiction treatment and recovery. Where a treatment program or recovery mantra tells an addict to remember the grim reality of where their addiction puts them, an ad for the substance or activity coaxes its audience, telling them to go ahead and forget about the consequences and let go of their self control. This can lead an addict directly into relapse and undo months of time and effort they have invested into their recovery.
Advertising itself is not evil. Advertising serves a necessary purpose to our lives in a consumer culture. However, there is an enormous difference between ethical and unethical advertising. If a product is worthwhile, an advertisement can represent it truthfully and it will still be profitable. Honest advertising would largely reduce the problem of addiction, because it would help people avoid becoming addicted to the idea of a substance or activity rather than the reality of it.
The advertisements we see for products such as cigarettes, alcohol and prescription medications tell us that using them can give us nothing but pleasure and comfort. Cigarette ads depict the coolest, most well dressed individuals out on the town, alcohol ads tell us we will be the life of the party and a sexual magnet, and prescription sleep medications guarantee we will be smiling in our sleep with lazy butterflies fluttering around us. Similarly, products that are meant to enhance process addictions, such as condoms or casinos, depict a fictional world where there are no consequences for our actions. This type of advertising is destructive and irresponsible toward mental health awareness.
The truth about addictive substances is that if you do not consciously moderate yourself when using them, you will become addicted. That will lead you down an ugly road of substance abuse effects, including imbalanced body chemistry, broken sleep, anxiety, depression, trembling, hallucinations and other unpleasant conditions. A sex addiction can expose you to diseases and physical ailments, and a gambling addiction will deplete your finances and leave you destitute. These are the truths that advertising will never offer consumers. Instead, they will do anything they have to to disguise the product as harmless and necessary to every consumer.
What is worse, advertisers and marketing companies count on addicts to contribute the largest profit toward the addictive product. They are in favor of addicts staying addicted in order to make their sales goals. The way they campaign for this is by trying to convince addicts that they are not addicts. They want them to believe, instead, that they are no different from the average consumer; collected, in control and merely looking for a good time. They go to great lengths to convince addicts that their feelings and cravings are normal, and that they are in good company. Advertisers should feel a much stronger sense of responsibility toward serious mental health matters such as addiction.