The study also found the type of computer algorithms currently used for online advertising could be used for targeted interventions aimed at tackling problem alcohol consumption.
In a recently published research paper, academics from University College Cork studied another aspect of alcohol consumption among students by looking at a consumption typology.
It resulted in 43 students, all from UCC, agreeing or disagreeing with 36 statements, and to what degree, followed up with in-depth interviews about their own alcohol consumption. It led researchers to define four categories of student drinker.
- The guarded drinker, who is a careful spender and characterised by “controlled enjoyment”.
- The calculated hedonist, who said they consume alcohol to feel pleasure and used alcohol to maximise their hedonistic attitude.
- The peer-influenced drinker with an ulterior motive — “motivated by a sense of belonging they gain from alcohol consumption, indicating that drinking helps them to feel a part of the group and adds a sense of social confidence”.
- The inevitable bingers, who, like the previous group, reported harmful or hazardous drinking but who also described how “they drink until all the alcohol they have is gone”.
More participants belonged to the first two groups rather than the latter two. Having categorised the type of drinker, the paper then looks at how methods of influencing their behaviour could be deployed.
It said it would be “naive” to believe that guarded drinkers may never transition to heavier drinking patterns and says “strategies focusing on social norms marketing, taxation, and advertising controls will help ensure they do not transition to heavier drinking patterns”.
It said “peer-influenced drinkers would benefit from social norms marketing to realign their perceived social norms”, citing research on students’ inflated perception of peer alcohol consumption and sexual prowess.
“This campaign, in addition to a ban on sports sponsorship to reduce the impact of advertising, will aid in reducing their consumption level,” the study said.
It said said hedonists would benefit most from “macro-level policies including minimum unit pricing and opening-hour restrictions” that would tackle their purchasing power, while inevitable bingers would benefit from minimum unit pricing, a ban on advertising, reduced opening hours, and a range of other measures.
Martin Davoren, post- doctoral researcher at the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health in UCC, was one of four researchers on the paper, which was published last month on the British Medical Journal website.
He said: “We are not trying to stop anyone consuming alcohol. We are trying to stop people consuming excessively.”
He said while no policy could work in isolation, the problem with many drink awareness campaigns was that they were not working.
Referring to algorithms, he said “something could be done here with social marketing to target health interventions at these types [of drinker] and specific groups.”
Dr Davoren is involved in a project targeting harmful drinking among third-level students. Launched last month, Responding to Excessive Alcohol Consumption in Third-level (React) is the first-ever national award and accreditation scheme which will recognise third-level institutions’ efforts to reduce excessive drinking among their students.