“You can’t go back and change the beginning but you can start where you are and change the ending”. Sage words from C.S. Lewis that are remarkably applicable to the societal scenario we find ourselves in today:
44% of Irish adults consume alcohol on at least a weekly basis, almost 1 in 5 binge drink and our children have their first alcoholic drink three years under the legal age at 15 years.
We’re not alone in our difficulties, hence this is EU Awareness Week on Alcohol Related Harm (19-23 Nov). But we do need to stop using comparisons to Mediterranean consumption for example, as a justification for our own high levels of frequency. And the danger of ubiquity is that as a society we are complicity sustaining the problem by normalising it.
Such are some of the challenges we have to face if we are to tackle the prevalence of our negative relationship with alcohol.
None of this is to say that things cannot change. In life the only constant is indeed change, and whilst daunting and difficult it is nonetheless possible. But there are a few things we need to make this happen.
Key to unlocking the desired shift is having the right information on which to base campaigns and interventions. The data from the HRB, Healthy Ireland and others provides the numbers, whilst the Drinkaware Barometer offers the ‘why?’, ‘when?’, ‘where?’ and ‘how?’ people drink. And this year we’ve gone one step deeper into the data in our Drinkaware Index - launched this week - to answer the fundamentally critical ‘who?’.
The collation of all of this results in a valuable knowledge that can inform and shape how we react to the issue. The focus on evidence has always been core to Drinkaware’s activities as evident in our investment in robust research that interrogates and checks all that we say and do. This is why 76% of the population know us as the most trusted provider of information on alcohol.
Drinkaware’s hope for EU Awareness Week on Alcohol Related Harm is that Ireland’s difficult relationship with alcohol doesn’t just get sensationalised but rather is debated. Public discourse is a valuable lever for behavioural change, generating understanding, creating appetite and eliciting curiosity.
But the trickier levers are the incentives and ‘know how’. Self-efficacy is vital because even if people feel it’s worth their while, if they don’t feel it’s possible then change won’t transpire. That’s why Drinkaware produces practical tools like our measure cup and drinks calculator, that enable people to reduce their consumption to within the low risk guidelines.
This is where we need to start if we want to change the ending, as per CS Lewis’ quote. Currently only 2% of the population are aware of the alcohol guidelines, but if people know what the low-risk guidelines are then by default they will know what misuse is. So our message this EU Awareness Week on Alcohol Related Harm is get the facts, know the guidelines and understand the risks. Because an investment in knowledge pays the best interest.