Interview with John O’Mahony from Behaviour & Attitudes  

Drinkaware Research Focus Blog

It was great to speak with John O’ Mahony, Director in Behaviours and Attitudes, following his keynote presentation in Drinkaware’s Summer 2021 research briefing that took place on Wednesday 14th July: “A year on – Drinking behaviours and attitudes in Ireland in the context of COVID-19 in 2021”.   Read on for Drinkaware’s interview with John O’Mahony.

John discussed what his experience collaborating with Drinkaware has been like. “They’re a super team to work with”. “It’s always a privilege to work with people who have that type of perspective. It’s a real pleasure working with them, and I learnt a great deal from them”.  

The Barometer  

The Barometer is a syndicated omnibus survey asking questions to a representative sample of adults aged 18+ across a wide range of topics and areas. John shared his experience about what the overall process of developing the barometer was like for him.   

“The Barometer started where all research projects should, which is determining who you want to talk to, and what you want to ask them. We (Behaviour and Attitudes) wanted to do a national survey of a sufficient scope where we could analyse the results by various different groups with confidence, which was what was exactly done with the Barometer”.  

The final data  

When John spoke about the final data from the barometer, he noted that sensitivity is required towards it. The final data showed that people’s consumption of alcohol was impacted by going into lockdown, which John found to be very understandable. 

“The results of the barometer indicated the challenges that the lockdown had presented to people. We should be very mindful of the level and the types of supports that people need, and they will also need those supports as they transition out of lockdown”.  

Any sort of confinement that is imposed on people is a real shock to the system. John vocalised that as we learn to live with COVID-19, or even enter a quasi-post COVID-19 period, the transition people will have coming out of that will also be full of challenges, and we need to be sympathetic to that as well.   

 I asked John if the outcomes of this research went beyond his expectations. “I think going into any research with a series of hypothesis in which some are confirmed, and some aren’t, means the results are often reaffirming and surprising”.  

John said that perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised with the results, but the jumps in alcohol consumption patterns and the falls in overall wellbeing were at the very least, surprising. “The dip in mental wellbeing shortly after we went into lockdown was so striking”.  

Changing our drinking behaviours post-pandemic  

As someone with a passion for behaviour change, John O’Mahony analyses behaviour from the past and present, as well as predicting what future behaviours could look like. He discussed what he thinks people can do to change the trend with alcohol consumption coming out of lockdown.  

“The first step is always recognising that there is an issue. To be reassured that we’re not alone in facing that issue makes it a very communal experience”. We have all had to cope with the pandemic and the lockdown at varying degrees and using various ways. John said that we’ve recognised a whole series of things during the pandemic, such as what is important in our lives and things we would like to change.  

“We’ve adapted in ways that are more on the negative scale, and we should look to address those as quickly as we can so that these behaviours don’t become established”. John also noted that gathering tips and tools from organisations such as Drinkaware can help us if we recognise that the amount of alcohol we drink is increasing. The research has shown us that people do want to address their drinking habits, and that process of searching and requesting the information has been made quite accessible to them.  

Future Drinkaware research  

When I asked John if he had any ideas for future Drinkaware research, he deeply considered the role of parenting during the pandemic as it’s placed a lot of strains on people. “They’ve had to adapt to a twofold situation: how COVID-19 has impacted themselves, and how COVID-19 has impacted their children, whether it’s in relation to their education or their social interaction”.  

We know from past Drinkaware research that parents with young children have found it particularly challenging and their levels of drinking have increased, and we also know that the other danger group is young adults (Families Barometer 2020).

 “I think the research on parenting and communication amongst families and how we cope with the difficulties of the pandemic may be a very fruitful future research direction for Drinkaware”.  

John noted that being both proactive and sympathetic as a parent is very important. “The approach of being sympathetic and empathetic to the challenges they have faced, and the various ways they have found to cope are all understandable. There is a need to explore the extent to which there are better and more constructive ways of coping”.  

Make sure to keep an eye out for future Drinkaware research as well as future collaborations with John O’Mahony from Behaviours and Attitudes.