Experts are now calling for a rethink of anti-alcohol campaigns
By Jenny Cook
The UK is infamous for its binge-drinking habits after it placed 13th highest in the world for heavy alcohol consumption in a report by the World Health Organisation three years ago – an ‘achievement’ that was dubbed a ‘national tragedy’ by experts. Since then, there have been all sorts of campaigns designed to discourage unhealthy drinking habits among young people but – according to a new study – it seems that such measures may have been doing more harm than good.
Scientists at the University of Exeter and the University of Queensland have concluded that promotions designed to discourage people from ‘bolting’ (otherwise known as ‘downing’) drinks could actually make them more likely to do it, suggesting a re-think is needed when it comes to anti-binge messages.
The research team designed three small studies, in which a total of 221 volunteers were examined to see how they reacted to a poster warning about the dangers of downing alcoholic drinks in one go. For some participants, a statement was then added saying that other people disapproved of bolting, while others were exposed to a different message claiming that most people ‘do not bolt drinks on a night out’.
The participants were then asked to complete identical questionnaires measuring their perceptions of group norms related to bolting, and their own intentions to do it in the future. It was found that those exposed to the first statement said they were more likely to down their drinks in the future, while those who saw the latter message were not. Additionally, those who were not shown either statement reported the poster as having ‘no effect’. study author Dr Joanne Smith, of the University of Exeter, said:
“Many young people overestimate the extent to which their peers both approve of and engage in risky drinking behaviours. One way to tackle risky drinking is to try to correct these misperceptions through health campaigns, such as posters.”
“In our research, we wanted to explore what kinds of messages are more effective in changing people’s intentions to bolt. Our results highlight the potentially harmful effects of exposure to what’s called an ‘injunctive norm’ – a message about the approval or disapproval of others. Meanwhile, a ‘descriptive norm’ – telling people what others do rather than what they think – had a positive impact.”
The study, which was funded by the Australian Research Council, clearly demonstrates the need for care when selecting campaign messages and slogans in order to avoid them backfiring.
A note to students…
This comes after the potential dangers of drinking games came to light in the UK in 2016, following the death of 20-year-old Newcastle University student Ed Farmer, who was rushed to hospital after a suspected society initiation. At the time, Drinkaware director John Larsen told Huffington Post UK:
“Many young people are unaware of just how risky alcohol games can be and most students regard it as just a bit of harmless fun… The body can only process one unit of alcohol an hour, and less in some people. Drink a lot in a short space of time and the amount of alcohol in the blood can stop the body from working properly.”
“If you do drink too much, you could easily get into trouble – problems include breathing problems, seizures and brain damage, and in some circumstances death… If you are out on a night out, stay with your friendship group and don’t feel under pressure to drink more than you want to.”
Following the recent A-level results day, many young adults up and down the country will now be looking forward to heading off to University come September. Before you go, here are a few tips on what to do if someone has drunk too much…
If they’re sick. Encourage them to take small sips of water every 15 minutes. Once they can keep fluids down, progress onto small portions of plain foods, like dry toast or a banana.
Look out for alcohol poisoning. Signs include confusion, severely slurred speech, loss of co-ordination, passing out and / or hypothermia.
When to seek help. Try to keep them sitting up and awake, and give them water if they can drink it. If they’ve passed out, lie them on their side in the recovery position and keep an eye on their breathing until you can get medical assistance. Keep them warm.
The study was published in the journal Addiction Research and Theory.