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Binge Drinking - It's Everyone's Problem

Binge Drinking - It's Everyone's Problem


3 APRIL 2006

A new series of television advertisements aiming to get New Zealanders to recognise how their own behaviours may contribute to New Zealand's binge drinking culture hit the airways last night.

The advertisements are the most visible public component of the Alcohol Advisory Council's (ALAC) programme to change New Zealand's drinking culture. The advertising part of the programme - first launched in March 2005 - is to help New Zealanders reduce the amount of alcohol they drink on any one occasion.

ALAC Chief Executive Officer Dr Mike MacAvoy says the new television advertisements are aimed at New Zealanders who have recognised the binge-drinking problem and are ready to think about behaviour change.

"They focus on everyday situations, and draw on the consequences our research shows us that people fear the most about being drunk such as embarrassment, being a bad parent and relationship break-ups.

"People switch off if the consequences portrayed are too extreme thinking "that will never happen to me'. But these situations a lot of people will recognise. In the past, many people have excused such consequences, put such behaviour down to "drunken antics' and laughed it off. Well, these negative consequences need not occur.

"Yes, the more serious harms are a more serious worry. But it's important we engage with and relate to drinkers. Reducing drunkenness will not only reduce the harms we see portrayed in the ads but also the more serious harms."

In one advertisement a drunken father embarrasses his young teenage daughter on the dance floor at a wedding. In another, a young woman confronts her drunken self in the middle of a big night out on the town watching her drunken self doing embarrassing things she wouldn't do if sober.

In the third, a young man at a work function is making an idiot of himself and is arguing with his sober self who is telling him not to mess it up with his girlfriend.

The television advertisements will be backed up by strategically placed press advertisements aimed at those who see binge drinking as some one else's problem.

They feature a number of statistics to emphasise this such as

- It's not just a youth issue; 46 percent of heavy drinkers earn more than $50,000

- It's not just a youth issue; 65 percent of heavy drinkers are over 30 years old

- One in five people admit they have let their family or children down when they got drunk

- One in four people admit they have done something they regretted while drunk

- Police are called out to alcohol-related incidents every eight minutes

"It's not the drinking that's the problem; it's how we drink, that is, the excessive per occasion consumption," says Dr MacAvoy.

"New Zealand is a nation that seems to pride itself on the "save it up for Friday night' style of drinking, the "we deserve a drink' perspective or "it's a rite of passage that causes little harm'.

"This pattern of drinking results in more harms and social costs than those incurred by the dependent drinker," he says.

"ALAC's programme to change New Zealand's drinking culture is a long-term strategy. It's not a silver bullet that'll solve the problem overnight and we've never painted it as such. Just as the drink driving and the Make it Click campaigns took several years to succeed, so too will this strategy take time to impact.

"What our monitoring is showing is that people are acknowledging New Zealand has a binge drinking problem, and they are also increasingly aware of the wide range of harms that result from drunkenness.

"People are recognising that the harms are more than drink driving related or dependency and include physical injuries resulting from accidents or fights; embarrassment from indulging in behaviours that you wouldn't normally indulge in; problems with relationships because of alcohol; problems at work - all are associated with excessive per occasion consumption.

"However, despite acknowledgement of a problem, we've got a way to go before all sectors of our society admit it's all sectors actually getting drunk and causing problems. There's still too much finger pointing and "it's not me' or "it's a young person's problem'.

"Work still needs to be done with some groups regarding the scale and scope of the problem, that is, understanding that binge drinking across all populations and situations in New Zealand is causing harm."

"We all have a role to play whether it is changing we personally drink, or changing the way we react to other people getting drunk. Single solutions do not work; what is needed is this comprehensive programme aimed at a single goal of eliminating intoxication."

The background work to the programme of work was robust and unequivocal and ALAC is delighted at the support the programme has received from Government and stakeholders.


- In 2004, New Zealanders aged 15 years and over drank a total of 28.69 million litres of alcohol.

- Internationally, that puts New Zealand 24th in alcohol consumption per head out of 50 countries.

- 88 percent of men and 83 percent of women are happy to claim that they are drinkers.

- Nearly half the population thinks that it is okay to get drunk.

- 25 percent of current teenage drinkers admit to having drunk at least five glasses of alcohol at least once in the last two weeks.

- 125,000 teenagers under the age of 17 fall into the category of binge drinkers. 75,000 will drink regularly - once every two weeks - and binge. 50,000 drink at least once a week and binge, usually with the intention of getting drunk.

- 635,000 adults drink at least once a week and binge. 785,000 adults drink regularly, often every day, and with equal regularity binge.

- 1.2 million drinkers are okay with bingeing or accepting of bingeing and regularly do so.

- 450,000 of us were binge drinking on our last drinking occasion.

- In New Zealand we estimate that alcohol harm costs somewhere between $1 billion and $4 billion a year.

- It costs the public health sector $655 million.

- It costs in crime and related costs $240 million.

- It costs in social welfare $200 million and in other government spending $330 million.

- In lost productivity, it costs about $1.17 billion a year.

- Alcohol is responsible for 70 percent of accident and emergency hospital admissions.

- 75 to 90 percent of weekend crime is attributable to alcohol.

- One in four women can't remember what they did while drinking.

- 3.9% of all deaths in New Zealand in 2000 were attributable to alcohol consumption (approximately 1040 deaths)



What is the advertising programme all about?

ALAC's new advertising campaign is one part of a programme of work designed to change the prevailing New Zealand drinking culture which is tolerant of drunkenness, binge-drinking and intoxication.

Why are we doing it?

New Zealand has a problem with alcohol. Even though New Zealand's overall per capita consumption of alcohol is within World Health Organisation Guidelines, the levels of "acute" alcohol-related problems (that is, problems arising from single drinking occasions) remain stubbornly high, indeed higher than those incurred from dependent or prolonged drinking ("chronic" harm). So something has to be done to address the harm that happens from these single occasions. ALAC has ascertained that drinking to get drunk is an accepted norm in New Zealand and that norm, together with the fact that many New Zealanders often do get drunk, is resulting in acute harms.

ALAC believes that we need significant resources in "supply control" (e.g. policy and enforcement of laws) and "problem limitation" (e.g. early intervention and treatment) initiatives to achieve a degree of change, but investment in those areas alone is not sufficient to achieve extensive and sustainable change and a consequent reduction in acute harm. So this advertising programme will contribute by challenging the norms underlying New Zealanders' attitudes and behaviour around drunkenness and help people make better choices about the way they drink.

Our aim is to convince New Zealanders that binge drinking and intoxication are socially unacceptable and to enable people to drink in a way that reduces the risk of harm. It is not the drinking; it's how we're drinking.

What is the aim of the advertising?

The first advertisements aimed to get New Zealanders to acknowledge the existence of a binge drinking culture and to understand the link between heavy per occasion consumption and harm. The second round of advertisements is to get New Zealanders to personalize the message; that is recognise they may well be part of the problem.

The over all goal of ALAC's programme is to reduce intoxication.

How do you expect the advertisements to change behaviour?

Advertising alone will not change behaviour. What ALAC has developed is a comprehensive multi-faceted programme, one component of which is marketing the need to change how we drink. No-one is suggesting marketing on its own can produce behaviour change; what we are saying is marketing in conjunction with a whole range of other strategies can influence behaviour.

It is not about simply delivering a social message by mass media. It is about delivering an integrated programme that includes policy, education, service provision and enforcement to support the change that the marketing messages are designed to stimulate. These things will together, help bring behavioural change.

Who are the advertisements targeted at?

The general adult population. We identified three groups: parents with children under 15; men under 35 and women under 35 years old and have specific advertising for each of those groups.

The reason for targeting adults, not just young people, is that research shows the drinking culture is pervasive across all ages and demographics. Young people are unlikely to change if the culture they learn to drink in accepts and aspires to drunkenness. Adults need to look at themselves before pointing the finger at young people.

What other strategies are there aside from the advertising?

The programme relies heavily on inter-related strands of activity across the three key areas of "Supply Control", "Problem Limitation" and "Demand Reduction" that are fundamental to change in the alcohol context.

The Supply Control strategies focus on achieving enforcement of and compliance with the Sale of Liquor Act and access and supply issues, and includes controlled purchase operations, parents' programmes, policy measures such as tax/price, controlling outlet density, purchase age and other regulatory mechanisms.

Problem Limitation strategies focus on the group of dependent and hazardous drinkers who need support and assistance to reduce or stop their drinking. These strategies include early intervention programmes, treatment, supporting the Alcohol Helpline and other services.

Demand Reduction strategies focus on persuading communities and individuals to make better choices about their consumption. It is this area that the advertising activity falls into.

What is different about this programme?

It focuses on patterns of drinking and attacks the cause of alcohol-related harm i.e. intoxication rather than the symptoms.

When do we expect results?

We have spent centuries as a society creating a culture where we drink the way we do. We won't be able to turn that around overnight. The Land Transport New Zealand (LTNZ) message against drink driving took 10 years to get through. We anticipate an equal if not greater challenge lies ahead.

We are monitoring the advertising and will look for both message uptake and attitudinal and behavioural change. But as per the goal of the first stage of advertising, it is attitudes we'll be looking for in the first year or so.

So what is a binge? How much is too much?

This is a notoriously difficult question to answer, primarily because it will be different for different people and may even vary for one person from one day to the next, and the time taken to consume the alcohol, and the circumstances.

For these reasons, we will not put a number around it.

Bingeing is about people drinking to a point of drunkenness and intoxication. It is where they say and do things that they wouldn't normally. It is where they put themselves and others at risk of harm. Most people know how much is too much and when they tip beyond a sociable state.

What is the harm of bingeing?

There are a range of harms, from injury to crime, to domestic violence, to neglecting family responsibilities, to lost productivity at work, to hospital admissions, to memory loss and embarrassment, and more.

Who is the advertising agency?

Wellington-based advertising agency Clemenger BBDO.

How much is the campaign costing?

The advertising campaign is costing $2.2 million per year, but the other complementary strategies that make up the overall drinking culture change programme take up a large part of ALAC's $11.3 million budget.

What does the advertising comprise?

Television advertising, radio advertising and magazine advertising.

Have any other countries taken this approach?

No, this programme to change the drinking culture is leading edge work and as such has aroused a lot of interest elsewhere in the world where they are grappling with the same issues.


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