From the child of an alcohol dependent parent to an alcohol harm academic

Alicia | November 2018 | 6 minutes

Alicia went from being the child of an alcohol dependent parent to an academic researching alcohol harm.

"Thankfully, not everyone has been witness to the effects heavy drinking can have on a family and on drinkers themselves. The countless days spent trying to safeguard yourself and your loved one, whose life is defined by their addiction, fed by the marketing and availability of the commodity that is ruining their life.

"For some, this experience makes people drink themselves. For others it drives them so far away from alcohol that they would rather not think about it. But I took a different route. My experience growing up with alcohol dependence drove me into an academic career focussed on researching problematic drinking practices. I want to make a difference.

"My experience growing up with alcohol dependence drove me into an academic career focussed on researching problematic drinking practices. I want to make a difference."

"Harm doesn’t only come from long-term alcohol dependence like my family experienced, and in fact that’s not the type of harm I study. This year I designed and executed a research project looking at pre-drinking culture within student populations in Newcastle Upon Tyne. Over the last decade, university populations have grown rapidly and so too have the traditions of pre-drinking and initiation ceremonies.

"My project found that over 80% of students interviewed and surveyed admitted to having been blackout drunk, hospitalised or having no recollection of a night out after excessively consuming alcohol at pre-drinking events. More shocking still was the finding that a variety of companies endorse this through throwing parties and providing alcohol-related paraphernalia. Yet 70% of students asked did not think pre-drinking and excessive alcohol consumption at university was problematic.

"The solution to this heavy drinking, which can lead to mental health problems, accidents and even tragedy, is unclear. Student drinking is hard for institutions to regulate and monitor, but universities and researchers like me are looking for strategies. We hope to change student drinking cultures and give young people more freedom to choose how much they drink, rather than being pressured into drinking more than they might want to.

"There are reasons to be positive. Young people across the developed world are drinking less, and there are signs that this is becoming a more acceptable choice. But while students do face undue pressure to drink, it’s important that they learn more about alcohol, through initiatives like Alcohol Awareness Week.

"My advice to students is to think about how much you drink and in what setting. Make sure you are hydrated and never get yourself in to a position where you could be in danger. Perhaps most important, however, is not to force anyone into consuming alcohol in any measure.

"I have gone from living in a home with alcohol problems to building my career around alcohol harm reduction. Institutions, academics and indeed every one of us need to work hard in redefining and observing problematic drinking and educating everyone at different stages of life on the risks. Only that way will we have change – for students, families like mine, and everyone else."