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What Do We Do If Alcohol Warnings Are Ignored?

Lisa Taylor
Lisa TaylorAddiction Counsellor

Aggressive efforts to educate people about the dangers of smoking have paid off via reduced smoking rates that are at their lowest levels in decades. Likewise, we are seeing fewer young people use some of the most dangerous illicit drugs on the market after telling them the truth about those drugs. For some reason, though, similar efforts don't seem to be working with alcohol. So what do we do if alcohol warnings are being ignored?

Our question is prompted by recent news from Alcohol Research UK that drinkers are ignoring warnings about responsible drinking in pubs. Those warnings, presented as responsible drinking posters on pub walls, are going largely ignored by patrons as they drink the hours away. It would seem the posters are having no effect in the pursuit of encouraging people to use alcohol responsibly.

Drinking Habits Studied

According to the Morning Advertiser, a group of psychologists from London's South Bank University just concluded a study in which they looked at pub patrons and their responses to responsible drinking posters. Study participants volunteered to be monitored while drinking using eye tracking technology. Participants were observed both in a controlled laboratory environment and at a bar.

Researchers ensured that safe drinking posters were clearly displayed in both locations. Then they tracked what participants were looking at throughout the experiment. It turns out that the drinkers looked at their drinks more than eight times more frequently than the posters.

Even more interesting, a poster that said 'keep calm and exercise regularly' was posted in both locations along with a 'keep calm and drink responsibly' poster. The exercise poster received more views in the laboratory setting than the drinking poster. It only received 16% of the total views in the bar setting.

Not Getting the Message

Researchers say that their study indicates drinkers are not getting the message about alcohol. But perhaps it has nothing to do with posters and glances. Perhaps we are presenting a faulty message that doesn't really get to the core of the problem. After all, who gets to decide what 'responsible drinking' really is?

In the addiction community, we frequently work with clients who assumed for the longest time that their drinking habits were, in fact, responsible. Even though they were binge drinking on weekends and consuming a couple of drinks per night during the week, they felt that their ability to hold a job or continue in school meant they didn't have a problem. It wasn't until their high-risk drinking developed into alcoholism that they finally worked it out.

Perhaps if we're serious about reducing the prevalence of alcohol addiction, we need to change the message entirely. Rather than trying to come up with some sort of safe level of drinking, perhaps it's time to start looking at alcohol the same way we look at cigarettes. It is unnecessary, you don't need it, and it can do more harm than good. What do you think?

Sources:

Morning Advertiser – http://www.morningadvertiser.co.uk/Legal/Health-safety/Alcohol-Research-survey-on-responsible-drinking-in-pubs

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