Tackling Alcohol Normalisation in Our Communities
How harmful heavy drinking became the norm
Sometime during the 1990s, we were all bombarded with an influx of marketing developments and supposed ‘normal’ drinking. The rise of alcopops, the increased popularity of stag and hen dos, happy hour – it was all just beginning.
Outlets with licenses to sell alcohol have increased exponentially over the last 12 years. Even schools and hairdressers joined the wave.
Since 1970 the volume of per person alcohol consumed has gone up by a massive 50% in the United Kingdom. This has happened alongside alcohol becoming steadily cheaper and easily accessed. Alcohol became a favourite of advertising, being pushed hard as drinking became a norm of the everyday.
There are some benefits. Alcohol is capable of benefiting society socially and economically, with the vast majority of people enjoying alcohol responsibly. But excessive alcohol can have a disastrous impact on people, their relatives and the wider community. The rate of alcohol related hospital admission in England continues to rise, with middle-aged people being the most prominent age group, according to new figures by Public Health England. Something needs to be done.
A Fresh Approach to Health
Vital public health issues like this are far too serious and complex for us to stand still and continue as normal. We need to develop and improve our own thinking on these issues, all whilst paying proper attention to the latest evidence on what works.
They key thing to consider here is the fact that alcohol is, ultimately, produced for profit. The more alcohol sold, the greater that profit is. The industry pours billions into crafting new markets, marketing the product and pushing favourable business conditions. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) sees some focus, but not nearly as much.
A review in the September edition of WHO’s Public Health Panorama, ‘Alcohol industry actions to reduce harmful drinking in Europe: public health or public relations?’ came to the conclusion that CSR efforts in the alcohol industry across Europe “are unlikely to contribute to WHO targets but may have a public-relations advantage for the alcohol industry.” We can now also see the findings by PHE (2016) that state education campaigns with industry involvement are unlikely to decrease alcohol harm on their own.
These are just a few of the many reasons which indicate that the public health community is highly sceptical of the alcohol industry.
Work to Be Done
Many people can tell their own story of how the normalisation of drinking has affected their own communities. Directors of Public Health recognise that nationwide social campaigns have a crucial role to play.
There’s still so much work to be done in order to reduce the harm caused by alcohol; the introduction of minimum pricing by unit - with health as a licensing goal, the better funding of recovery and treatment services, an alcohol business levy in order to support the cost to the council, and the funding of police to keep communities clean and safe – are just a few of the things that need to be looked at. It’s time for everyone to double their efforts.