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Four alcohol industry tactics targeting vulnerable people

5 Oct 2021
News 6 min read
Young woman with black hair drinking an alcoholic beverage in a glass.

How the alcohol industry has lined its pockets with money from vulnerable people during coronavirus restrictions (plus tips to rise above their tactics)

Author: VicHealth, a Victorian Government Agency that works with experts, evidence and research in health promotion

Any coronavirus information mentioned is accurate at the time this article was first published (15 June 2020). For the most up-to-date information about coronavirus restrictions, please visit the source:

Coronavirus has majorly impacted our lives. This has created a cocktail of vulnerability that powerful industries have been exploiting to increase their profits.

We’re concerned that alcohol harms are becoming more severe as people drink at home during coronavirus. Below we look at four ways the alcohol industry has targeted vulnerable people during coronavirus and share tips on how to rise above their tactics.

Number one: Promoting drinking as the way to catch up socially online

Linking virtual catch-ups with alcohol products is a way for alcohol companies to make a profit, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good option for vulnerable people.

Alcohol companies have exploited people’s need for social connection as a way to sell their products, like online pub and trivia nights. Even more concerning, these alcohol-focused events don’t include the basic alcohol service standards the community expects to protect vulnerable people.

We know that these promotions aren’t just impacting adults. Recent data released by the Alcohol and Drug Foundation (ADF) showed one in five parents (19 per cent) upped their alcohol consumption during isolation, citing ‘video socialising’ as a factor in their increased alcohol intake.

FACT: Using alcohol products while socialising online is "not healthy, especially not for Australia’s kids, who may have witnessed their parents’ drinking habits change rapidly," said the ADF as part of their new awareness campaign You haven’t been drinking alone.

“The attitudes to drinking that your kids take into adulthood come from one of the most important people in their lives. You.”

The Alcohol and Drug Foundation

TIP: There are other things you can do instead of drinking while connecting with friends and family members online. Some apps allow you to challenge your family members to games, share your baking fails and triumphs, or take your book club online. And now that restrictions are easing, you could try these activities in-person! Parents can also see our tips on creative activities for kids, and other ideas for keeping kids busy at home.

Number two: Encouraging alcohol consumption as a way to cope with boredom, stress and anxiety

Many people have experienced boredom, stress and anxiety related to added pressures and responsibilities, due to being isolated from colleagues and friends during coronavirus restrictions.

The alcohol industry wants everyone to think their products will help. The ADF has shared further examples of concerning alcohol advertising strategies on their website.

The Alcohol and Drug Foundation calls out the concerning alcohol industry strategies that frame their products as a 'friend' and a way to cope:

“The alcohol industry saying their products are a great way to cope with stress is like the power industry saying leaving doors and windows open is a great way to cope with rising heating bills. It just adds to the problem.”

The Alcohol and Drug Foundation

FACT: Levels of anxiety often increase the day after drinking alcohol. If you’re already feeling anxious about coronavirus then it’s best to limit the amount of alcohol you consume to no more than ten standard drinks spread across the week.

TIP: Instead of consuming alcohol products, you might want to try some other ways to reduce stress and anxiety, such as exercising, and other activities that can support your mental health and wellbeing (and for parents to support their kids’ mental health and wellbeing) now that restrictions are easing.

Drinking at risky levels also affects your sleep, and with alcohol delivery services choosing profits over safety with their cowboy practices, many Victorians, including vulnerable parents, would be at an even greater risk of consuming more alcohol and losing more sleep.

FACT: The quality of your sleep can be reduced when you drink alcohol products. This becomes more likely the more alcohol you consume. Good quality sleep is vital for general health and wellbeing. And when it comes to parents, if you don’t get enough sleep, early morning wake-ups and day-to-day parenting responsibilities can feel overwhelming.

TIP: To make sure you get a good night’s rest try having some alcohol-free days and limiting your alcohol consumption per week to no more than ten standard drinks.


The following day, you may have a hangover, which is:

  • anxiety
  • poor or decreased sleep
  • headache
  • diarrhoea and nausea
  • tiredness and trembling
  • increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • dry mouth
  • trouble concentrating

Alcohol and Drug Foundation, June 2020.

Number three: Showing one alcohol ad every 35-seconds on social media during coronavirus restrictions

The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) found that alcohol advertising had increased during coronavirus restrictions.

“Over 100 alcohol ads in one hour demonstrates the relentlessness of digital alcohol marketing during the COVID-19 restrictions. Many of these ads promoted buying more alcohol and drinking alcohol to cope or ‘survive’ isolation and the pandemic,” said Cancer Council WA Alcohol Program Manager Julia Stafford.

“With phrases like ‘wine from home’, ‘Stay in. Drink up’, and ‘confinement sale’, it’s evident the alcohol industry is using a global health crisis to its advantage.”

FACT: An alcohol advertisement was shown every 35 seconds on social media during coronavirus restrictions.

TIP: Be aware that the alcohol industry is targeting people on social media so try and take time away from these platforms, or click the option to block those kinds of ads when they do pop up, so you aren’t constantly bombarded.

Number four: Using ‘healthy’ words to describe their products

Describing alcohol products with words like ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ is a deliberate tactic to make them seem healthier – called a ‘health halo’ – when in reality there are no healthy alcohol product options.

These words are just designed to dupe you. And while this tactic was used before the coronavirus pandemic, it's particularly concerning during it. Why? Because we know that drinking alcohol, particularly at risky levels, reduces the body’s immune response to infection, regardless of whether the alcohol product is ‘natural’ or ‘organic’.

FACT: “When it comes to alcohol products, it doesn’t matter how many healthy-sounding words are in the ad – it’s the alcohol itself that can harm our health, including being a cause of seven different cancers,” explained Cancer Council WA on their LiveLighter website.

TIP: When you see ‘health halo’ descriptions on alcohol product labels and advertisements, recognise that it’s a tactic to make you buy the product and it doesn’t mean it’s a healthy option.

The alcohol industry puts profits over people. Telling us their products are necessary, helpful or healthy is all part of their sales push, no matter the cost to your health and family life.

Next time you see these selling tactics in action, you’ll be able to see them for what they are.


Are you worried about your or a loved one’s alcohol consumption? You can call DrugInfo for free, anonymous information 1300 85 85 84.

Have you seen an alcohol advertisement that you think is problematic? Get in touch with the Alcohol Advertising Review Board and Ad Standards about it.

Artwork by Dexx (Gunditjmara/Boon Wurrung) ‘Mobs Coming Together’ 2022
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VicHealth acknowledges the support of the Victorian Government.

Artwork Credit: Dexx (Gunditjmara/Boon Wurrung) ‘Mobs Coming Together’ 2022, acrylic on canvas. Learn more about this artwork.