3-year priority 2013–16: More people actively seeking the best ways to reduce alcohol-related harm.

Alcohol stats

Alcohol is one of the top 10 avoidable causes of disease and death in Victoria. Its negative impacts on individual Victorians, their families and the broader community is estimated to cost $4.3 billion every year.

Alcohol-related harm is a significant preventable health issue. Each day in Australia, alcohol causes 15 deaths and 430 hospital admissions, placing a significant burden on the healthcare system. Alcohol also causes a range of social problems that affect drinkers and those around them.

Alcohol-fuelled violence has been a hot topic for years – and it remains an insidious problem – but lately the public debate has shifted to the underlying culture of drinking in Australia that’s at the heart of this issue.

Behavioural insights trial – water in licensed premises

Alternating alcoholic drinks with water is a proven harm reduction strategy. During February and March 2016, VicHealth led a behavioural insights trial in a late-night licensed venue to determine whether improving the promotion, attractiveness and accessibility of free drinking water impacts on its consumption.

Results indicate that water consumption among patrons of licensed venues is generally very low; however, it did increase during the intervention phase. We also found that such strategies are low-cost and easy to implement, supported by bar staff and do not impact on business revenue.

Further research and trials are continuing in this area.

Innovation Challenge: Alcohol

We awarded cohealth arts generator $85,000 to launch the ‘Be a Brother’ social marketing campaign, supporting young African Australian men to drink less alcohol. Be a Brother has been a welcome, culturally appropriate innovation, using video and social media to successfully introduce new conversations around alcohol in the community and create a culture of support for change.

The Alcohol and Drug Foundation’s #SoberSelfie Challenge also contributed to Victorians’ ability to say no to a drink. Participants have reported a reduction in alcohol consumption since completing the Challenge.

Roundtable on alcohol and prevention of violence against women

In June 2016, VicHealth convened a cross-sector roundtable to discuss priorities, considerations and challenges for addressing alcohol-related violence against women.

Issues identified at the event align with the directions and priorities of the Victorian Government’s Royal Commission into Family Violence report. Participants discussed priorities for future research, policy and practice, and identified opportunities for collaboration.

Hello Sunday Morning

We supported Hello Sunday Morning in using social media to successfully start conversations around Australia’s drinking culture. The result was an increase in Victorian registrations (up by 933 per cent) and an increase in online interaction, with over 100 per cent increase across blogs.

Of those evaluated, nearly two-thirds reported reduced alcohol consumption following completion of the program and over half of the sample reported improved physical health (53 per cent) and positivity (51 per cent).

Alcohol Cultures Framework

Culture change is a slow and tricky business at the best of times. For VicHealth, the state’s alcohol culture is ongoing area of interest as it endeavours to encourage more Victorians to moderate their alcohol consumption and fight social pressures associated with drinking. The very concept of culture is wrapped up in social norms, beliefs and attitudes about socially acceptable behaviour before, during and after putting a glass to your lips.

Contrary to popular belief, Australia does not have a single alcohol culture, but is instead made up of many different, overlapping cultures whereby norms and acceptability differ between groups.

Yet change can occur slowly and steadily if the right approach is taken. Professor Robin Room, Director at the Centre for Alcohol Policy and Research, points out that several decades ago, removing drinking from the context of driving a motor vehicle led to significantly different outcome in terms of public health. “In Victoria, alcohol consumption and the number of drivers went up, but the number of deaths on the road dropped from over 1,000 to under 300,” said Room. “This was because of a big change in norms, and how ordinary people thought about driving home after having a few drinks at a party.”

The change in social norms, beliefs and attitudes about drink driving has led to a significant and lasting change in the culture of drink driving in Victoria. Before the change, Victorians did not question whether someone was ok to drive, they thought it was normal to drive home from a party when drunk. Now Victorians feel free to openly question the appropriateness of someone driving after a few drinks, and actively offer support to find other options for getting home.

In collaboration with the Centre of Alcohol Research and the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, VicHealth has developed an alcohol cultures framework to reduce harm from alcohol. Built on qualitative interviews and workshops, and in consultation with Government departments, universities, law enforcement and peak health organisations, the framework was designed to focus on positive behaviour change within a setting – any place where alcohol is consumed, such as at home, at a party or at a licensed venue – and/or within a subculture – any group that shares the same values, identity, beliefs and social norms.

Next on VicHealth’s agenda is to put the framework into practice by targeting specific sub-populations of risky drinkers in terms of their settings and sub-cultures. 

“It’s hard to reduce ‘problems per litre’ at a whole-culture level, but change is more feasible at lower levels,” said Professor Room, who noted that research tends to focus largely on the more youthful end of the population. “Drinking is falling among young people, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t problems,” he said. Whereas for older Victorians who drink regularly, “A lot of the drinking is kind of nostalgic; it’s about reliving old experiences. That may be a place to start looking.”

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