Heavy drinkers ‘more likely to reject alcohol health messages’

28 February 2024

The heaviest drinkers are the most likely to reject public health messaging on the dangers of alcohol, according to new research by London South Bank University (LSBU).

Heavier drinkers also rated themselves as less likely to experience drink-related health problems like liver disease than those following recommended NHS guidelines.

Men and women are advised not to drink more than 14 units a week, equivalent to six pints of average-strength beer or ten small glasses of lower-strength wine.

“This study shows that heavier drinkers especially are unlikely to be influenced by educational approaches like warning labels because they subconsciously avoid them,” LSBU’s Dr James Morris, who led the study, said.

Heavy drinkers rated a World Health Organisation risk message on various alcohol-related health problems as less credible and less trustworthy. They also felt more fearful of it and wanted to think about it less.

The study involved 600 participants, recruited online, whose alcohol consumption was tracked, and their responses recorded.

The researchers noted that those most likely to engage in certain risky behaviours often downplay the associated problems, described as ‘optimism bias’.

In turn, they avoid engaging with health warnings at a subconscious level.

The researchers say this is one reason why alcohol health information and campaigns alone are often ineffective at changing behaviour.

“Rather than relying on weak educational approaches, alcohol policy measures including minimum pricing and restricting availability and marketing are the most effective approaches,” Dr Morris said.

The study is published in the journal ‘Psychology & Health’.