Anti-drinking ads which show stupid drunk behaviour inadvertently glamorise

Advertising campaigns in Britain meant to discourage young people from drinking to excess have come in for some harsh criticism from researchers and comes at a time when experts are saying alcohol abuse is a widespread problem among the young.

The researchers say adverts which focus on the idiotic behaviour carried out when people are drunk may be "catastrophically misconceived" and may backfire by inadvertently glamorising the habit.

In a study, led by a research team at the University of Bath, researchers from Royal Holloway, University of London and the University of Birmingham looked at anti-drinking campaigns in three UK regions over a period of three years.

The research involved in-depth interviews with 94 young people and led the team to warn that young people might see the some of the inappropriate behaviour which happens when people are drunk as a way to assert their social identity.

They say drinking stories, alcohol-related mishaps and escapades are key markers of young peoples' social identity; they also deepen bonds of friendship and cement the membership of a peer group.

The researchers say adverts which show drunken incidents such as being thrown out of a nightclub, or passing out in a doorway, are often seen by young people as being typical of a "fun" night out, rather than a warning.

According to the researchers whilst such adverts imply that being very drunk with friends carries a penalty of social disapproval, for many young people the opposite is in fact often the case.

Lead researcher Professor Christine Griffin says extreme inebriation is often seen as a source of personal esteem and social affirmation amongst young people and being the subject of an extreme drinking story could raise esteem among a peer group.

Professor Chris Hackley from the University of London, also says inebriation within the friendship group is often part of a social bonding ritual that is viewed positively and linked with fun, friendship and good times, even though some young people can be the target of humiliating or risky activities.

The researchers say this suggests that anti-drinking advertising campaigns that target this kind of behaviour may be catastrophically misconceived.

Professor Hackley says a radical rethinking of the national alcohol policy is required which takes into account the social character of alcohol consumption and the identity implications for young people.

Professor Isabelle Szmigin, from the University of Birmingham says many young people were aware that drinking too much could damage their health but few regard this as no more than a short-term problem.

The charity Alcohol Concern, says binge drinking is often treated as nothing more than a source of amusing anecdotes and for a message to be work it must be hard-hitting with more reference to physical safety than lost of social prestige.

The research was funded by the by the government-backed Economic & Social Research Council.

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