Research identifies motivations to reduce alcohol intake

Monday, 04 December 2017


A new study has identified which personal experiences would motivate people to reduce the amount they drink.

The research, conducted by Oxford Brookes University, University of Queensland and The Global Drug Survey (GDS), examined data from over 70000 participants, aged 18+, from 21 countries across the world.

Participants were asked which three experiences in order of importance, would most likely get them thinking about reducing the amount they drink or change the way they drink alcohol.

The study also found that almost of third of participants reported that they would like to drink less alcohol over the next 12 months. Lead author of the study and Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Oxford Brookes University, Dr Emma Davies said: “This, combined with the data showing that nearly half of people from the UK and the Republic of Ireland think that their GP would tell them to cut down if they were being honest about their drinking levels, suggests that people are aware of their drinking habits and could be motivated to change.”

The primary experiences that were rated as most likely to lead to a change in behaviour were related to physical health, injuries, sexual regret and having to seek emergency medical treatment.

Analysis showed that females were more likely to select motivations related to sexual regret, sexual assault or seeking treatment, while males were more likely to choose motivations related to work / education, financial issues and mental health issues.

Respondents of a younger age were more likely to select ‘sexual regret/assault, violence and trouble with the police. Older participants were more likely to report social embarrassment or forgetfulness as potential motivation for change.

Respondents aged 25-34 and 35-44 were also more likely to select physical health and family motivations.

Understanding the different motivations that may lead individuals to change their behaviours could be used to inform brief interventions and targeted public health guidance.

Dr Emma Davies, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Oxford Brookes University

Dr Emma Davies continued: “Understanding the different motivations that may lead individuals to change their behaviours could be used to inform brief interventions and targeted public health guidance.

“Doctors could target their advice based on demographics, for example applying the finding or the current study that older participants may be more concerned about embarrassment or forgetfulness.

“Rather than advising people to drink less, an alternative approach might be to focus health information on specific experiences drinkers may be able to relate to.”

Further analysis of the data highlighted how motivations for reducing drinking also varied between countries and regions, highlighting the importance of cultural factors.

Selecting social embarrassment in the top three was associated with respondents from Germany and was rated highly in other Northern European countries, suggesting that upholding a personal reputation in public might be important in these cultures.

In contrast, respondents from other European countries rated injuries and violence as more important motivations than those from Germany, which may reflect broader cultural differences. Mediterranean countries also rated injuries more highly. In the United States, respondents rated being in trouble with the police as more important which could reflect harsher penalties and cultural norms around law enforcement. Respondents from Poland and Greece rated financial concerns as more important which may reflect broader financial challenges in these countries.

“The World Health Organisation has set a target of reducing harmful alcohol use by 10% before 2025”, explains Dr Davies.

“Although many countries publish alcohol consumption guidelines, these vary across different countries and we know that efforts to persuade people to stay within these guidelines often fail and people, particularly in Britain, regularly exceed the recommended thresholds.

“This study has explored how brief interventions by doctors and other healthcare practitioners could be enhanced by understanding what individual experiences might lead people to cut down.”

GDS is a cross sectional survey, and the sample is not representative of the general population so we should be cautious when interpreting the findings. However, the observed differences across countries and between demographic groups provide a foundation for future research.

Each year, The Global Drug Survey (GDS) consults more than 100,000 people around the world on the way they use alcohol and other drugs. By discussing the findings GDS aim to make drug use safer, regardless of the legal status of the drug.

This year GDS is interested in what people think about alcohol health warning labels, for example, are they are positive thing, and would they make people think about their drinking?

This year’s survey can be found online.

The paper, Motivations for reducing alcohol consumption: An International survey exploring experiences that may lead to a change in drinking habits was published in the December 2017 issue of the journal Addictive Behaviours.