23 October 2007 Scare tactics fail to prevent binge drinking

Scotsman, Edinburg, Scotland

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

by Lindsay McIntosh

SCOTS are binge drinking because they believe everyone else is doing it, a leading American expert warned yesterday.

New York academic Dr. Wesley Perkins spoke out at a seminar at the Scottish Parliament, on the same day the government launched an alcohol awareness week, aimed at encouraging drinkers to acknowledge how much they are consuming.

Traditional prevention strategies are not working, whether we are trying to educate young people about the influence of alcohol upon them, or we are trying to scare them, he told the think tank Scotlands Futures Forum.

What I have been promoting is a social norms strategy. Thats a strategy where we identify what the actual norms are what do most people think and do with regard to alcohol use.

I know the majority have a positive attitude and behaviour. They are healthy and responsible but thats the best kept secret. What young people and older people in the community think is everyone is engaging in problem behaviour.

They think the majority have very permissive attitudes.

More people are influenced to engage in risky behaviour than they would otherwise because they think everyone is doing it.

Dr Perkins, from Hobart and William Smith Colleges, New York state, has produced research showing once people realise binge drinking is not common practice, there is an overall drop in alcohol consumption.

Tom Wood, vice chairman of Scotlands Futures Forum, and chairman of the Scottish Association of Alcohol and Drug Action Teams, said he believed the approach could work in the country as a long-term strategy.

Shona Robison, the health secretary said many drinkers did not realise how much they were consuming and the government was keen to change this so we can make informed choices and take responsibility for our own consumption. She agreed Dr. Perkins work was part of the same argument.

George Crooks, medical director of NHS 24, which is also a partner in the initiative, said: There seems to be more of an acceptance that binge drinking is the norm and also you hear about people drinking for effect rather than social interaction.

I think a lot of people have a sensible attitude but society has to be careful that practices which are clearly recognised as potentially dangerous do not become accepted as that is what happens in Scotland that is what a Saturday night is like.