Viewpoint: UK alcohol policy and market research: media debates and methodological differences

Chris Hackley
Royal Holloway, University of London

Over the past two decades, patterns of alcohol consumption in the UK have changed with a 'culture of intoxication' prevalent among rising numbers of young people (Szmigin et al. 2007). The UK Government's Safe, Sensible, Social (2007) policy document argues for a programme of research-based initiatives and 'social' marketing campaigns to change this culture by promoting 'sensible' drinking. Market, consumer and social researchers have an important role to play in this and other key public policy debates but differences of method and the priorities of media coverage may affect the policy impact of findings.

My colleagues and I found that while the level of media interest in research is huge, coverage of findings does not necessarily add clarity. Our three-year project explored the identity implications of alcohol marketing and consumption for young people. We analysed the marketing environment for alcohol and then interviewed 106 individuals in the 18–24 age range in three regions of the UK. We found that drinking to intoxication had become thoroughly normalised. Many of our interviewees would relate 'drinking stories', tales of extreme inebriation on nights out with groups of friends. Getting drunk seemed to deepen the bonds of friendship within social groups and enhanced the social standing of the individual within the group (Griffin et al. 2007).