Tip Sheets

Covering alcohol and drinking responsibly

Compiled by Tara Haelle

Deaths related to alcohol – about 88,000 a year – exceed overdose deaths from all other drugs combined, including opioids. But news organizations almost never cover alcohol as a public health epidemic on the scale of that seen with opioids or gun violence. Alcohol is often perceived as an “acceptable” drug in U.S. society, and journalists are complicit in maintaining that dangerous perception as well as many other misconceptions about the drug.

To improve reporting about alcohol and drinking, check out the excellent, thorough tip sheet on responsible alcohol coverage at Journalist’s Resource. The full piece is worth reading and then reviewing before each alcohol-related piece you write, but here is a brief, incomplete distillation of suggestions in the piece:

  • Don’t downplay the seriousness and deadliness of alcohol in coverage about it.

  • When covering lifestyle angles about alcohol, consider highlighting its risks too.

  • When discussing alcohol servings, be very specific about what constitutes a “serving” or a “drink.”

  • When covering alcohol research, point out the study limitations and put the findings in context by noting other studies or broad findings in general.

  • Be clear and specific about what populations were studied in studies about alcohol.

  • Avoid stereotypes: anyone can have alcohol use disorder.

  • Speaking of which, use the appropriate term — alcohol use disorder — instead of “alcoholism” or “alcoholic.”

  • Other terms to consider instead of alcoholism include “problem drinking,” “alcohol misuse” or “alcohol problems,” according to alcohol researcher James Morris in the Journalist’s Resource piece, but be sure to define “problem drinking” and similarly imprecise terms.

  • Banish use of “alcoholic” in favor of person-first language, such as “people with alcohol use disorder.”

  • Include scientific realities of drinking in reporting, such as what “blackouts” are and what their effects are.

  • Seek diversity in sources and perspectives on both drinking and on sobriety.

  • Look for story angles that connect alcohol to other social problems, such as domestic violence, suicide, child abuse and crime.