FARGO — The word “envy” might come to mind for anyone looking at 23-year-old model Audra Hanson. The Fargo native grew up in a nice home with a supportive family and yes, she’s strikingly beautiful. Yet, Hanson continues a daily struggle: to stay sober during COVID-19. It's a time when so many people online laugh off booze as the best way to cope — wine glasses for sale on Amazon that read: “It’s not really drinking alone if you’re social distancing“ or Facebook posts that profess the virtues of day drinking.
“I see it everywhere,” she said of alcohol on social media and other online sites. “I actually had to stop listening to the podcasts that I really enjoyed because they normalize all of the heavy drinking by saying ‘we need to or we have no other choice.’ It’s just very scary for me.”
Scary, because Hanson has called herself an alcoholic since she was 21 years old. Now she’s hoping to turn the social media tide a bit by bringing online attention to sobriety.
‘Off to the races’
Hanson, who grew up dancing and in musical theater, says she started drinking when she was just 16 years old.
“The first day I drank I got super drunk —binge drank — and I’ve been a binge drinker ever since,” she said. “I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve had just one drink. I'm always someone who, the second I start drinking is like, ‘okay, I need to just start taking shots.' I'll have four or five drinks, at least. I’m off to the races.’”
She says at first, the heavy drinking didn’t get in the way. In fact, she says while she drank, she felt relief from the severe anxiety she had experienced since childhood.
“At first it was like ‘oh my gosh, no more anxiety. Everyone is super fun and they like me. I felt on top of the world,” said Hanson.
But then she started failing classes, and the anxiety that had initially disappeared while she drank, came roaring back.
“Eventually, it started causing me to have panic attacks, and the depression really set in. It was an overwhelming feeling of guilt, even when I'd done nothing wrong, and it would just stick with me and then that leads to more drinking,” she said.
A continual fight
She tried to stop drinking a couple of times while juggling jobs and modeling gigs in Minneapolis and Los Angeles. (She worked as an Instagram influencer/model, Rockstar Energy Model and a "Wild N Out" girl for the Wild N Out tour with Nick Cannon). Each time she relapsed.
“It was pretty scary, too, because it wasn't like I gradually went back to drinking. I was back at my worst, and the anxiety and depression was even worse because I felt like I had failed myself,” she said.
Hanson says she was in the middle of her last relapse when she decided to move home to Fargo during the pandemic to ‘regroup'. She says she initially drank when the bars opened up again in Fargo in May, but as of this writing, she is about 75 days sober through the use of therapy and a 12-step program.
Hanson is also trying something different this time — tackling her own substance abuse issues while reaching out and helping others learn more about theirs through social media, including a video for a friend’s YouTube channel.
“So I did one of her episodes and we highlighted the sobriety, and I have started to talk about it more on my Instagram page,” Hanson said. I’m just trying to bring awareness of what my experiences have been.”
Hanson, who is currently a full-time student at Minnesota State University Moorhead, says she’s hoping to do her next video after she’s been sober for 100 days. She says the hardest part about staying sober is the social aspect, being a 20-something who can’t go out drinking.
“I don't go on my social media on the weekends because I see everyone drinking. So that's a huge trigger,” Hanson said. “Also, during COVID, we’re alone and you don't have much social interaction anymore. So that's a trigger for sure.”
Someone to relate to
But Hanson says she’s choosing to take things one day at a time and focus on what she can do. As an Instagram influencer and brand influencer, she has more than 16,000 followers and she’s hoping her message about sobriety, as well as health and nutrition, will help someone on their path.
She says obviously she doesn’t have all the answers, but she hopes she can raise awareness about alcoholism for those who don’t struggle with it and for those that do struggle, she hopes knowledge can bring comfort and hope.
“I thought it would help people have someone to relate to because I know how hard it can be,” Hanson said. “All over social media, you see drinking. So it’s nice to see someone talk about not drinking and maybe help them feel not so alone with what they’re going through.”
You can follow Audra Hanson on Instagram, Audramhanson, and see her current video on YouTube.
If you need help:
Americans are drinking more this year than last, according to several reports including one from the American Heart Association.
Nielsen reports alcohol sales in stores were up 54% in late March compared to the same time last year, while online sales of alcoholic beverages were up nearly 500% in late April. According to a Morning Consult poll of 2,200 U.S. adults conducted in early April, 16% of all adults said they were drinking more during the pandemic, with higher rates among younger adults. One in four Millennials and nearly one in five Gen Xers said they had increased their alcohol intake.
There are several sites offering tips and guidance for staying sober during COVID:
6 Recovery Tips for Staying Sober During COVID - Henry Ford Health Systems
10 Tips for Staying Sober During COVID - Northshore Health Systems
Tips for Staying Sober During COVID - Comprehensive Wellness Centers
Prairie St. John’s in Fargo has master’s level needs assessment staff available 24/7/365. All assessments conducted are free and confidential. Most assessments are being done over the phone due to COVID, but walk-in’s who pass a COVID screening can be seen in person (with COVID precautions in place). Needs assessment staff can be reached at 701-476-7260, 701-476-7216, or at the main line at 701-476-7200. Currently there is availability across all programs — inpatient/acute care for children, adolescents, and adults, high and low substance abuse residential care for adults, intensive outpatient substance abuse programming for adults, and day treatment for children, adolescents, and adults. Levels of care, COVID precautions, visiting hours, and other information can be found at www.prairie-stjohns.com.