Creating a more compassionate national conversation about alcohol harm

Lucy Holmes | October 2021 | 6 minutes

We’re pleased to announce the start of an exciting new research and communications project, looking at how we frame alcohol harm.

We believe the national conversation about alcohol can be better – more nuanced, more evidence-based, and kinder. We want it to be easier for people to take control of their own drinking, and to ask for and access help when they need it. We want to see better, evidence-based policy-making that takes the steps that will work to reduce harm. Above all, we want to inspire and motivate everyone to reduce alcohol harm and support those affected.

Framing is about making deliberate choices about how we communicate. We will start by understanding how people currently think and feel about alcohol harm and what causes it, before learning how we can better tell stories that change hearts and minds.

Our vision is for the national framing of the harm caused by alcohol, and those affected by it, to be:

  • Compassionate: encouraging compassion towards people who cause or experience harm because of alcohol.
  • Empathetic: destigmatising those who experience alcohol harm and reducing shame. In particular, being clear that alcohol problems are common across society, especially in a country steeped in pro-alcohol culture.
  • Balanced: taking an evidence-based approach to the causes of and solutions to alcohol harm, and avoiding an over-emphasis on individual responsibility, structural and environmental causes, or disease-based concepts.
  • Supportive and non-judgemental: creating a culture that encourages and enables help-seeking and support for family, friends, colleagues, patients, clients etc. who disclose a problem, making it easier for people to take control of their own drinking and for those who need it to access help.
  • Understanding and knowledgeable: broadening and deepening understanding of, and support, for evidence-based solutions to alcohol harm.
  • Motivated to change: creating a society that recognises the need to tackle alcohol harm, and wants to work together to achieve that.

To help us realise our vision, we’re commissioning a project exploring how people understand and talk about alcohol harm, and how that affects what they think should be done to reduce it. We are pleased to have appointed a collaborative team to undertake the work, including researchers from the Institute for Social Marketing and Health (ISMH) at the University of Stirling, University College London, University of Sheffield, London Southbank University and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, in partnership with the Race Equality Foundation and FrameWorks UK. The project will begin immediately and take around 18 months to complete.

The project team is led by Professor Niamh Fitzgerald, Director of ISMH, who stated: ”We are delighted to be taking forward this exciting and innovative project with Alcohol Change UK. Public understanding of alcohol harms and policies, and our behaviours, are influenced by the stories or ‘frames’ we hear from others and those we tell ourselves. This project aims to change the way we talk and write about alcohol, to build support for positive change.”