In a recent Drinkwise report, some understanding of why young people get drunk on a night out was offered.
Attitudes and motivations for ‘drunken nights out’
‘Drunken nights out’ were found to deliver clear recognised benefits to participants. Four were identified under headings of ‘escape’, ‘bonding and belonging’, ‘social adventures’ and ‘stories’. It states there are few alternatives “which provide the same mix of benefits” and drinkers found hard to think of other things they could do.
Alcohol itself plays a crucial though not universal role in ‘drunken nights out’:
‘Alcoholic drinks are treated as ethanol-delivery mechanisms, with calculations of ‘units per pence’ and appropriate concentrations guiding choice of drink. People value the effects of alcohol, which they see as giving them the confidence and reduced self-consciousness needed to do things they would not normally do; take on their drunken night out identity; and access the benefits of a drunken night out.’
It states that “drunkenness is therefore prized, not only for its direct effects, but also because it is an entry ticket to the social permissions afforded by the drunken night out.” Furthermore, experiences of being sober in the night-time economy were experienced as “abnormal and uncomfortable”, and so “drunkenness is a required condition of participation in the drunken night out.”
Limits and attitudes to health
Such drinkers do express personal “limits” but not as a health consideration, rather than a point at which they do not intend to pass in terms of ability to control their behaviour. Reasons for doing so may include avoiding shame (beyond just embarrassment), but particularly for women, protecting themselves against vulnerability was valued. Groups played an important function in terms of perceived safety. However “as people become more drunk, they are less likely to regulate their consumption consciously, and more likely to respond to situational prompts to drink and conform to social norms.”
Longer-term risks “were discounted altogether”, in part as drinkers saw health problems associated with “alcoholics” or daily drinkers who overall were thought to drink more. Even where health harms were accepted, their young age and cutting back in the future were seen as reasons not to consider health risks.
In the review “pre-drinking” (or pre-loading) is considered “part of the overall package” of behaviours, and drinking games were common. Although the review, and Drinkaware in general, are not involved in pricing debates, it recognises “the opportunity to get drunk for less money does play a role”. However it also suggests there is evidence that pre-drinkers may drink as much when out as those who have not pre-drunk.
Risks and Risk Management
Two key serious risks were identified in the review:
There is a significant problem of violence associated with drunken nights out, skewed towards more serious incidents such as wounding. Many of our participants had witnessed or been victims of violence on a drunken night out.
There is an association between alcohol consumption and sexual assault. Survey responses suggested that molestation and groping are common experiences as part of a drunken night out.
So what could we do?
Education and communications are best used as part of a wider package of behaviour change interventions – and that, by themselves, they are unlikely to achieve changes in behaviour. Howver, there are four areas for possible education and communications interventions: ‘boundaries’; ‘conscience’; ‘consequences’ and ‘vulnerabilty’.
Have a nice weekend!