Calling time on binge drinking

Beer bottles28 November 2012

The Home Office has today launched a consultation on measures to reduce alcohol consumption. The consultation focuses on measures such as a ban on ‘multi-buy’ options in stores, mandatory licensing conditions and a minimum unit price of 45p.

Research has indicated that a minimum price will reduce excessive drinking. On the other hand, historical research suggests that steep price increases would prove ineffective. The ESRC-funded research fellowship Intoxication in Historical and Cultural Perspective, led by Dr Philip Withington at the University of Cambridge, studied the history of intoxicants in 16th and 17th century England, and found that alcohol consumption was driven by affluence – meaning that higher prices would be unlikely to curb excessive drinking.

A number of alcohol-related research projects supported by the ESRC are carried out by the UKCRC Public Health Research Centres of Excellence. DECIPHer (Development and Evaluation of Complex Interventions for Public Health Improvement) is looking at the availability of alcohol, evaluating interventions to reduce alcohol consumption in young people and the role of parents and family relationships.

Fuse, the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health, focuses on problems related to consumption, the development and evaluation of policy measures and support for behaviour change, while CEDAR (the Centre for Diet and Activity Research) is exploring the influences on our behaviour, public health interventions and how modelling interventions can help us see the long-term effects.

The long-running Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), which follows a large group of children born in 1991/92 through their lives, is also looking at the impact of alcohol consumption. Alcohol and substance use: risk, development, and desistance during transitions to adulthood, an ongoing ALSPAC project, is exploring life trajectories and outcomes of alcohol and substance use.

The ESRC-funded research project Alcohol seeking and consumption: the role of reward valuation and attentional bias has explored the psychological basis for excessive drinking. The findings indicate that excessive drinking could be caused by a greater preference for alcohol over other rewards, a reduced consideration of alcohol's possible negative consequences when deciding to drink, and a greater sensitivity to initial 'priming' drinks.