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19 Apr 2016

Researchers in the United Kingdom have found that heavy drinkers are more likely to seek help if they are told how their drinking ranks compared to other people.

The study, led by behavioural scientist Professor Ivo Vlaev of the Warwick Business School, studied the reactions of 101 university students who were sent different messages by text.

It found more students sought advice when they were sent a message saying they drank more units a week than most of the participants in percentage terms.

“Excessive drinkers typically underestimate their consumption relative to that of others, and these interventions with messages aim to reduce consumption by correcting this misperception by telling people how their drinking actually compares,” Professor Vlaev said.

“The study shows informing excessive drinkers of how their alcohol consumption ranked was more effective in persuading them to seek alcohol-related health information than informing them in other ways.”

The students were sent four weekly messages containing one of four types of information – official alcohol consumption guidelines, how their consumption compared with the guidelines, how their consumption compared with the mean average of the group, and how their consumption ranked among the group.

 Participants who were told how their consumption ranked were more likely to request information and to request a greater number of types of information than those sent the other messages.

However, they did not reduce their alcohol consumption, showing that reducing alcohol use is a complex change requiring a variety of interventions.

Professor Vlaev said the findings suggested that future interventions might benefit from focussing on telling people how their behaviour ranks.

Meanwhile, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians has called for the legal drinking age to be raised, higher taxes on some alcoholic drinks, and a reduction in the blood alcohol limit for drivers.

The RACP made the calls in a submission to a Senate inquiry into alcohol-fuelled violence.

Maria Hawthorne



Published: 19 Apr 2016