Alcohol consumption and its effects generate significant and sometimes emotive debate. Over the last decade this debate has become amplified by fears about ‘binge drinking’ among young people. The current Government has signalled its intention to tackle the worst excesses of drinking as part of an effort to improve public health and reduce public disorder. It has not yet set out a clear strategy, although it appears committed to a combination of light regulatory measures (such as an end to below cost duty & VAT sales), encouraging better behaviour through ‘nudges’, and more local control over licensing laws.
However, changing behaviour as complex and deep-rooted as harmful drinking is extremely difficult. One of the keys to this challenge is to help ensure people are more responsible for their actions and behaviour. Under the Influence will focus on the role of social, parenting and peer influences on the binge and harmful drinking of 18-24 year olds, particularly drinking behaviour that leads directly to serious health or public order problems. It will research and propose ways to create a generation of responsible drinkers. The project is also considering how local communities – citizens, local authorities, the police, the NHS, local breweries and nightclubs – can work together to achieve this goal. These are central elements of the Coalition’s Big Society.
This research is split into two phases. First, the research team will evaluate the existing evidence base about binge drinking among 18-24 year olds to ensure there is accurate, reliable evidence about the scale and nature of the problem, that the terminology employed is accurate and that there is a solid understanding of the options available to tackle it. For example, varying and contested definitions of ‘binge drinking’ itself sometimes obfuscate what the actual problem is. Although it is widely believed that 18-24 year olds in the UK drink more often and at an earlier age than those in culturally similar countries, other data do not bear this out, and levels of binge drinking have been falling in the UK since 2004. Our review of this evidence will be published in February/March 2011.
Second, the research team will generate new evidence about the importance of individual responsibility in drinking patterns. There is compelling evidence that programmes aimed at improving parenting and tackling parental alcohol abuse impact positively on children’s wellbeing and behaviour. Moreover, US research suggests that social programmes aiming to tackle peer influences can be cost-effective and sustainable. The research team will undertake quantitative analysis of the types of character traits and parenting styles associated with responsible (and irresponsible) drinking patterns and behaviour, and a qualitative study of the role social networking sites play in drinking behaviour. The report produced by this second stage of research will be released in June 2011.
The overall objectives of the project are to constructively inform policy debate by providing accurate and balanced evidence on binge and harmful drinking amongst 18-24 year olds, and to create a clearer narrative on what the nature and extent of serious alcohol misuse is amongst this age group. The work will recommend public policy solutions that are likely to work and which are consistent with the concept of co-regulation and the Big Society: shared responsibility for behaviour between government, business, family, peers and the individual.
This project is supported by SABMiller plc and overseen by an independent steering committee of public health experts, academics, advocacy groups and industry representatives.
This pamphlet investigates the causes of, and possible responses to, binge-drinking among young adults aged 18-25 in the UK.
This report investigates the connection between parenting style and harmful drinking behaviour
This report looks at alcohol policy in the UK and puts forward measures which could make a real contribution to tackling the alcohol-related harms that Britain still faces.
Jonathan Birdwell argues in Prospect that to tackle binge drinking, the government must look at parenting and not the technocratic solution of minimum pricing.
Jonathan Birdwell discusses the findings of the new Demos report Feeling the Effects on BBC Radio 5 Live (from 1hr 38min).
The Daily Mail explores the key findings of Demos' latest report, Feeling the Effects, which argues that mothers who drink heavily risk passing down their bad habits to their children.
A new Demos report, Feeling the Effects, covered in the Independent today, claims that parents should drink less in front of their children to prevent their offspring becoming binge drinkers.
Jonathan Birdwell explains Demos's upcoming research into the relationship between a mother's drinking habits and their child's future behaviour.
The Sun cites Under the Influence in an advice column on alcohol education.