On a random weekday evening, I scrolled through Instagram and counted glasses — or, I counted photos of glasses.
I wanted to see how many of my friend’s posts featured them drinking wine, taking shots or toasting mimosas. The results were pretty surprising. Of the first 20 posts I scrolled through, nine of them were pictures of my friends drinking alcohol (a full three posts were taken at a winery).
The results were a little jarring. Everyone’s Instagram feed is different, of course, but even a quick, random scroll made me realize just how often alcohol shows up in my social media diet. Usually, I don’t think anything of it — it’s just part of the experience. People are out at brunch, concerts, wineries, breweries or nice diners, and they want their friends to know about it. It feels normal.
For people in recovery from alcohol addiction, the same experience can feel a lot different. Dr. Kojo Sarfo, a psychotherapist and board-certified mental health nurse practitioner, told In The Know that posts like these — which normalize or even glorify alcohol use — can cause people in recovery to “suffer silently.”
“[Drinking is] glorified in our culture,” Dr. Kojo said. “It’s a part of going to college and having fun. But we never talk about how that would be for the individual who, maybe they have addiction in their family, or they’re struggling themselves.”
And on social media, drinking is pervasive. My “study” might have been unscientific, but there’s plenty of real data showing just how heavily alcohol shows up in posts.
In one analysis, researchers looked at the Facebook and Instagram profiles of users in their late teens and early 20s. Not only were posts featuring alcohol extremely prevalent — more than half of all Facebook users had posted a photo with alcohol in the past year — but they were also overwhelmingly positive. According to the study, 97% of all posts containing alcohol depicted drinking in a positive light.
Dr. Kojo is an expert on social media and how it makes us feel. In addition to his mental health work, he also runs a highly successful TikTok page where he gives advice on depression, ADHD, addiction and more.
“When you’re on social media, you have your highlights that you post … but nobody posts the times when they’re struggling,” Dr. Kojo explained. “So, if you’re struggling and you go online, you’re going to see people having fun. And it’s going to make you feel like you’re less than. It’s going to make you feel like you’re not measuring up to other people when, in all actuality, you might be doing very well.”
Still, Dr. Kojo believes social media, when used the right way, can be a positive force. While speaking with In The Know, he gave three major tips for how people struggling with alcohol addiction can navigate their online lives.
1. Know your triggers
For Dr. Kojo, it’s good to start with some self-reflection. In order to set your boundaries, you first have to know where they are.
“Be honest with yourself,” he said. “You don’t want to lie to yourself and put yourself in a position where you might not succeed.”
This, Dr. Kojo added, is key for effective communication — even if that communication is digital.
“[From there], you can let your family members and your friends know, ‘Hey, this is something that I’m working on,'” Dr. Kojo said. “Enforcing those boundaries, I think, is a requirement in order to be successful.”
2. Control your feed
So what does enforcing those boundaries look like? Dr. Kojo acknowledged that people in recovery may want to limit the amount of alcohol on their feeds — but he was quick to add that this doesn’t mean you have to “cut someone off” just because they’re always posting their boozy brunches.
Instead, he recommends using the “mute” function on apps like Instagram, Snapchat or Twitter. That way, you can avoid potentially problematic posts without making your friends that they’re the problem.
“If that’s your friend or your sibling or a co-worker, you can still be cool with them in some capacity. But you may have to distance yourself because of the path that you’re on,” Dr. Kojo said.
As for TikTok, you can limit unwanted content from your For You Page by pressing and holding over clips you don’t like. From there, the “not interested” icon will appear. Clicking it will reduce the number of similar videos that appear in your feed.
3. Find your community
This is where social media can become a tool instead of a trigger. After setting up your feed to block out any content you don’t want, you can try transforming your online experience into one focused on building a support system.
Dr. Kojo recommends actively seeking out communities — through hashtags, groups, influencers and more — where there are other people who can relate to your journey. This, Dr. Kojo said, is where the true power of apps like TikTok and Instagram show themselves.
“Having social media and having these spaces where people can talk about their experience in an authentic and vulnerable way … I think that’s the catalyst to helping people who struggle silently,” he explained.
And finding these communities might be easier than you think. On TikTok, there are dozens of mega-popular hashtags for people in recovery — including #Sobriety (663 million video views) and #WeDoRecover (790 million views). Meanwhile, Reddit has forums with tens of thousands of members, like r/Alcoholism and r/AlcoholicsAnonymous, where users share their stories.
“It’s going to be helpful to have somebody who understands what you’re going through,” Dr. Kojo said. “Because if you meet somebody else who isn’t on that same path, you have to explain to them what you’re doing. You have to enforce boundaries. But when you’re with somebody who just gets it, it makes things a lot easier. It makes you feel seen and heard and appreciated.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing an alcohol use disorder, call The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 1-800-662-4357 for resources or visit the Online Intergroup of Alcoholics Anonymous. You can also search for local programs and therapists through the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism online navigator.
If you liked this story, check out In The Know’s interview with activist Brandon Anthony, creator of the top-rated Reddit video series, Recovery Road.
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