Putting down the glass

The community impacts of passive drinking vary dramatically; it’s time come together to reduce them.

Written by Rob Moodie

The phrase ‘passive smoking’ is part of our everyday vernacular –a huge step forward from the scepticism surrounding the idea when it was first introduced in the 80s. We know the health implications of passive smoking, to the point where we make active choices to reduce the potential harms it causes. Passive drinking is the same issue in many ways, and its impacts can be just as severe. However, it’s not yet as widely discussed or understood.

Passive drinking refers to the damage done to someone as a result of other people’s drinking. Impacts vary dramatically, from petty costs due to damaged property, to serious harms like sexual harassment, drink driving and alcohol-fuelled violence, such as domestic violence.

A recent study by the Australian Education and Rehabilitation Foundation indicated three-quarters of the adult Australian population had been affected by someone else’s drinking in the last year *. The report estimated heavy drinkers cost others around them $13.43 billion in out-of-pocket costs and in wages or productivity.

Drinking alcohol does not always lead to causing harm to others. However, there are ways to prevent the financial, emotional and physical costs of passive drinking.

Working together as a community

There is no silver bullet solution and it will take an ongoing, collaborative approach from bars, alcohol brands, community health organisations and the government to bring about change. However, here are some ways that could help reduce the impact of passive drinking:

  • Pricing of alcohol. Serving $2 shots is not responsible service. Bars need to be more accountable for responsible service of alcohol.
  • Honest advertising. Ads and packaging should clearly highlight the harms caused by excessive drinking to not only the individual, but to others around them.
  • Public alcohol-free events. Such events can help shift public perception that to have a good time, you need to drink.
  • Reduction in late night trading licences. Sensible reductions in very late night licences can lead to harm prevention.

Changing your own ways

Tackling the issue begins with being accountable for our own behaviour. Preventative health campaigns have been successful in changing attitudes of drinking habits. FebFast, for example, challenges Australians to take a month off alcohol and raises money for youth addiction support services. Previous participants reported at least one lifestyle benefit from taking a break from alcohol, including saving money and sleeping better. 73 per cent of participants also reduced their alcohol consumption post-February and intended to maintain these changes.

It’s important to discuss the issues associated with alcohol with your family, as well as being aware of the dangers of introducing alcohol to teenagers. According to the National Health and Medical Council (NHMRC) there is no safe level of alcohol for young people under 18. Deakin University Professor John Toumbourou’s research shows teens whose parents set rules to not supply or allow them to drink alcohol are 25 per cent less likely to binge drink.

Register for FebFast at febfast.org.au.

*Report: The Range and Magnitude of Alcohol’s Harm to Others. The last year of research was conducted in 2010.

Written by Rob Moodie

Rob Moodie is a Professor of Public Health at the University of Melbourne and a patron of FebFast 2014.

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