Tapping social support for positive drinking attitudes
By Davey Wilson, Health Promotion Officer, City of Whittlesea
My name is Davey Wilson and I’m the Health Promotion Officer at the City of Whittlesea. I’ve been working with the Council for the last three years in health promotion and before this I was an environmental scientist. My role involves working with young people in YARD (Youth Against Risky Drinking) program.
I like my role; it involves the initial scoping, looking at the evidence, creating projects and then delivering them – you really get to be involved in something from beginning to end.
In the City of Whittlesea, we have some of the highest rates of youth disengagement in Victoria. That means large numbers of young people aren’t involved in school, training or employment. We also know young people in our area have high rates of alcohol use.
When we heard about the VicHealth Alcohol Culture Change Initiative, we decided to develop a program. We thought a program like YARD would fit with the Council’s priorities, be interesting and have good community outcomes.
In 2016, we secured VicHealth’s support. Stage 1 involved creating focus groups to explore young people’s drinking culture and their attitudes and behaviors to alcohol. We approached the local Epping Polytechnic and YSAS, (Youth Support and Advocacy Services) for help to organise and facilitate our groups with young, people aged 17-21 years.
At the Polytechnic focus groups, we used a more open-ended approach and asked the young people questions like “What you do on a typical night out?” With the YSAS focus groups they were a bit younger, so we used a mapping exercise. They drew pictures about where they went on their nights out, their friends, roads, locations and places they passed through. Their pictures were a great prompt for further discussion.
After talking to these young people about risky drinking, we discovered it followed a common pattern based around their age. I was surprised to hear that young people of legal drinking age like to party a lot; were going out four times a week in the city, at nightclubs, renting flats in the city and staying there with friends. They’d also had some bad experiences, so this phase usually lasted only 2-3 years and then they had a different, more relaxed lifestyle and weren’t drinking as much.
We also found out that young people below legal drinking age were drinking in parks, at people’s houses and sometimes given alcohol by older cousins and siblings. We decided to focus on these younger people aged 14-18 years in our YARD program as they were still drinking a lot and were less aware about many of the problems with risky drinking.
These findings from our focus groups with young people informed our proposal and intervention for Stage 2.
We discovered that alcohol is an important part of young peoples’ lives, in terms of creating friendship networks, socialising and becoming an adult; so, we couldn’t create a “say no” campaign, as it just wouldn’t work.
We realised the main protective factors with young people to prevent harm from alcohol was connection with friends, themselves and life opportunities. So, we designed a campaign around those elements.
We didn’t need a campaign telling young people not to drink, we needed a campaign to encourage them to improve their connection with friends without risky drinking. By focusing on these positive social norms, you hope to reduce some of those negative social norms.