Mature Enjoyment of Alcohol in Society

Alcohol Issues – A Partnership Approach

01 October 2003

“Widespread misperceptions of drinking norms create acceptance of drunken behaviour” – says US expert

MEAS (Mature Enjoyment of Alcohol in Society Limited), a drinks industry initiative to combat alcohol misuse and abuse, is today hosting the first of a series of Alcohol and Society annual conferences in the National College of Ireland, Dublin. Today’s conference, ‘Alcohol Issues – A Partnership Approach’, aims to promote an awareness of alcohol and public order issues and looks at some partnership initiatives undertaken in Ireland, the UK, and the U.S. which address these issues.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr Michael McDowell made the opening address at the event. Speaking at the event, the Minister said: “The exercise of responsibility in relation to alcohol abuse is not a one-way street. It is not just of consumers that we should expect that responsibility, those who compete for market share must also play their part.”

Fionnuala Sheehan, CEO, MEAS commented: “The speakers at today’s conference have first hand experience of how alcohol impacts on society and can share real solutions that are based on partnership”. She expressed confidence that initiatives currently underway will over time have a positive influence and was very hopeful that some of the ‘best practice’ partnership initiatives implemented abroad and yielding tangible, positive, results could be implemented in this country.

Michael Haines, Director of the National Social Norms Resource Centre, Northern Illinois University, provided evidence that ‘a social norms approach changes drinking perceptions and improves health and safety’. He outlined survey research that showed that high school students, college students and other young adults significantly over-estimate the drinking norms of their peers. He explained that ‘ widespread misperceptions of drinking norms create acceptance of drunken behaviour, suppress safe drinking, and increase ‘imaginary’ peer pressure to drink more heavily’.

Mr Haines claimed that in communities and universities using a social norms approach, alcohol related harm and heavy use have been reduced by 20 to 40 per cent.

Chief Superintendent Pat Cregg, of the Community Relations Department, pointed to the importance of affecting change in the attitude and behaviour of the consumer, especially the young consumer, and to the role of parents and other behaviour influencers on healthy attitudes towards alcohol.

Dr Chris Luke, a consultant in Accident and Emergency in Cork University Hospital, when presenting ‘Nightclub Medicine’ stated that “Honest alliances – surprising at first – are important in addressing public health challenges such as alcohol and substance misuse and violence.”

Other topics covered at the conference included The Responsible Serving of Alcohol Programme; The Role of Advertising in Responsible Alcohol Consumption; and Making a Difference through Partnerships in the United States.

Attendance at the conference included delegates from Governmental and non Governmental organisations with policy or management positions concerned with alcohol and public order. Delegates also included personnel with front line responsibility for service provision to the public. A broad range of sectors were represented, including An Garda Siochana, environmental planning and transport service providers, the hospitality industry, healthcare, education, criminal justice, student, youth and community work, as well as academics and politicians.

MEAS recently launched a Fact Sheet about Alcohol in Ireland and a booklet entitled ‘Alcohol – A Guide for Parents’. The publications are designed to encourage and help parents to discuss drinking with their children. They are being distributed to parents nationwide and are available directly from MEAS or may be viewed/downloaded.

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