Shifts in Culture Could Be Causing Drop in Excessive Drinking

BY JANITA KAN

November 11, 2018 Updated: November 11, 2018

Fewer people in Europe and the Americas are engaging in excessive drinking and this could be linked to shifts in culture, an expert from the U.N.’s public health organization said.

According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) latest status report (pdf) on alcohol and health, which examines the periods from 2010 to 2016, there was a drop in prevalence of people aged 15 and over who engaged in heavy episodic drinking—equivalent to roughly four 12-oz beers.

The Americas saw a downward trend of 10.8 percent in prevalence, while Europe saw a 14.5 percent fall. Similar trends were also observed in other regions around the world.

The report also found that three regions—Africa, Americas, and Europe—observed a drop in prevalence of more than 10 percent among adolescents aged from 15 to 19 who engaged in excessive drinking.

Dan Revke, senior technical officer from the WHO Management of Substance Abuse Unit and an executive editor of the report, said although there is still no concrete evidence to determine the exact causes for the fall, with further study, lessons can be learned from the positive change.

Online Culture

Revke said one possible reason for the drop could be a cultural shift in the public’s perception of drunkenness, in particular on social media.

“We think that somehow being drunk is not so popular in certain sub-groups anymore,” he said.

For example, people’s alcohol consumption may be influenced by how they want to represent themselves on social media.

Another cultural change could also be the increased popularity of online gaming.

“If you are gamer, alcohol affects your motoric abilities so being drunk is not the best thing when you are playing a sophisticated game,” Revke said.

Nevertheless, excessive gaming is a problem, he said, and has already been classified a disease in WHO’s International Classification of Diseases.

Current trends like young people opting for abstinence from alcohol as seen in the UK, and celebrities openly talking about their sobriety, could also be creating change, in Europe.

“If you do a Google search, you often see that some celebrities have stopped drinking, and you have articles that it’s fashionable not to be drinking, and our data confirms that there seems to be … something in it,” Revke said.

Data from the UK Office for National Statistics also shows a decrease in alcohol consumption between 2005 and 2017, likely fueled by an increase in teetotaling—abstention from alcohol—in people aged from 16 to 44.

Despite these positive trends in the decrease of excessive drinking, WHO said the overall burden of injuries and diseases caused by harmful use of alcohol is still unacceptably high.

In the recent report, the organization found that more than 3 million people were killed by alcohol-related injuries, disease, and health problems in 2016. Harmful use of alcohol includes the amount of alcohol drunk over time, how frequently alcohol is drunk to intoxication, the drinking context, and the quality of alcoholic beverages.

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