Intersections of drinking cultures, health and policy

This program of work broadly aims to understand how cultures of drinking intersect with health outcomes, social determinants of health, and policy contexts.

We explore historical and contemporary shifts in cultures of drinking, investigate heavy and light drinking social worlds, and seek to understand the broader contexts (e.g., structural inequalities, generational factors) in which drinking and harms occur.

Not all policies affect individuals in the same way, and not all policies that work for one generation will work for another. This program of work recognises the need for nuance in policy making. We focus our attention on ‘what works’ for reducing drinking and harm in different groups, but also how policies may produce problems, or exacerbate social and health inequalities.

Research Team:

Senior researchers: Amy Pennay, Sarah MacLean, Robyn Dwyer, Robin Room, Sandra Kuntsche, Emmanuel Kuntsche, Gabriel Caluzzi, Cassandra Wright, Mary Walker

Research officers, PhD/honours/ma students: Megan Cook, Daniel Anderson-Luxford, Rakhi Vashishtha, Filip Djordjevic, Chris Cheers

Projects within this area:

Public drinking laws: the need for socially justice-based approaches

This program of research explores the impacts of public drinking and public intoxication laws on different groups of stakeholders, as well as those who consume alcohol in public. It is important for policies to protect the community, but also not to further marginalise consumers at risk of social and health harms. Through a series of projects funded by local and state governments, this program of work has made recommendations for socially justice based responses to public drinking and public intoxication. These include, among, other things, alternative health-based responses.

Researchers: Amy Pennay, Michael Savic

Funder: Yarra City Council, State Government of Victoria, National Drug Law Enforcement Research Fund

Social change and youth drinking: A cross-cultural and temporal examination

Australia, Sweden and the UK have recorded their lowest rates of youth alcohol consumption in 20 years, representing a significant development for public health. Sustained reductions in youth drinking have the potential to reduce alcohol consumption across the population as this generation moves through the life course. However, it is not clear whether today’s youth are simply delaying the age at which they begin heavy drinking or whether they will continue drinking less as adults. The overarching aim of this DECRA is to explore the cultural status that alcohol holds for abstinent and light drinking youth using qualitative methods, in particular:

a) how the cultural status of alcohol for abstinent and light drinking youth varies across cultural contexts (focusing on case examples from Australia, Sweden and the UK), and

b) whether and how the cultural status of alcohol for abstinent and light drinking youth in Australia varies over time as they move into young adulthood.

Understanding the cultural differences and alcohol trajectories for abstinent and light drinking youth is needed to support the development of strategies to sustain these trends through informed social policy, potentially decreasing alcohol-related harm for an entire generation.

Researchers: Amy Pennay, Jukka Törrönen, John Holmes, Gabriel Caluzzi

Funder: Australian Research Council (Discovery Early Career Researcher Award)

Understanding heavy alcohol consumption cultures among nurses and lawyers and investigating frames for intervention

The project, which has received $237,000 in Government-funding through an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant, could ultimately lead to new campaigns and activities to reduce harmful drinking among the two groups.

Lead researcher, Dr Robyn Dwyer, said nurses and lawyers represented sizeable workforces who often worked with vulnerable people. In 2015 there were about 330,000 nurses employed in Australia; and about 71,500 solicitors were practising in 2016.

“Collective drinking such as after-work drinks and networking is a part of the occupational activities of nurses and lawyers and while we know that heavy drinking occurs among these groups, little is known about their drinking cultures that support these drinking patterns,” Dr Dwyer said.

“Research has already shown that large proportions of these two workforces drink more than is recommended. This potentially poses risks to the long-term wellbeing and safety of individual nurses and lawyers, but could also affect their care and support of patients or clients.”

The researchers will conduct the study in natural settings where nurses and lawyers drink together. This will allow the team to collect new knowledge on the cultural and social practices, meanings, and settings that shape heavy drinking among nurses and lawyers, which will help identify opportunities for drinking culture change within the two occupational groups.

Dr Dwyer said the focus on drinking cultures within subgroups of the population is a newly emerging and important complement to population or individual-level approaches to reducing alcohol-related harms. She said the approach has been spearheaded by the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth) and this study is the first time the approach has been applied to understanding drinking among nurses and lawyers.

The project is a collaboration between researchers at CAPR and Monash University, in partnership with the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth), Eastern Health, the Nursing and Midwifery Health Program Victoria and Jarryd Bartle Consulting (JBC).

Researchers Dr Robyn Dwyer, CAPR, Dr Amy Pennay, CAPR, Dr Michael Savic, A/Prof Sarah Maclean, CAPR, Prof Robin Room, CAPR, Dr Rowan Ogeil, Prof Dan Lubman, Mr Jarryd Bartle, Jarry Bartle Consulting

Partner Organisations: VicHealth, Eastern HealthNursing and Midwifery Health Promotion Victoria, Jarryd Bartle Consulting

Alcohol and tobacco use among lesbian, bisexual and queer identifying women

This project aims to examine practices of alcohol and tobacco use among lesbian, bisexual and queer-identifying (LBQ) women, which are considerably higher compared to heterosexual women. By using an innovative longitudinal qualitative approach, this project expects to generate new knowledge regarding the cultural and social forces that shape higher rates of alcohol and tobacco use among LBQ women, and to better understand their impacts. It is anticipated that the project will enhance the capacity of health promotion and policy organisations to meet the alcohol management and smoking cessation needs of this population. Findings from this project should help to alleviate health and social inequalities experienced by LBQ women.

Researchers: Adam Bourne, Julie Mooney-Somers, Amy Pennay, Jennifer Power, Ruth McNair, David Moore, Anthony Lyons

Funder: Australian Research Council (Linkage Project)

Mothers' little helper: Alcohol use in working mothers

This project aims to generate unique insights into the strains that Australian working mothers face in their daily lives and the impact these strains have on their alcohol consumption. Using innovative methods to understand strains resulting from two major life domains, family and work, the project expects to generate new knowledge which can be used to develop interventions to address this important issue. The results of this study can provide significant benefits not only to the quality of life of working mothers in Australia but also has society-wide implications. This is due to alcohol use being a leading avoidable cause for productivity loss alongside other social, community and economic costs.

Researchers: Sandra Kuntsche, Cassandra Wright, Emmanuel Kuntsche, Gabriel Caluzzi, Sherry Stewart

Funder: Australian Research Council (Discovery Project)

What do they know and how do they know it? Exploring the development of young children’s perceptions of alcohol

This project aims to explore how young children aged 4-6 years old develop knowledge and perceptions about alcohol use. The study uses innovative age-appropriate methods with children including tablet-based expectancy tasks and interview-based methods. Analyses focus on situational norms, beverage-specific norms, gender-norms and age-based norms. The study will inform prevention messages for parents and schools.

Researchers: Megan Cook, Sandra Kuntsche, Amy PennayEmmanuel Kuntsche

Funder: La Trobe University

Understanding drinking practices during the COVID-19 pandemic

This project explores how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected drinking practices among 60 Australians. Qualitative interviews were undertaken with adults who shifted to working from home, who lost their jobs, and who remained working outside the home (essential workers). Interviews explored whether and how drinking patterns had changed, how these were influenced by work and home-based stressors, and what the implications of these findings are for drinking beyond the pandemic. An additional sample of 30 parents were interviewed to explore the stressors unique to parenting during the pandemic.

Researchers: Megan Cook, Robyn Dwyer, Amy Pennay, Gabriel Caluzzi

Funder: La Trobe University

Disrupting the unhealthy relationship between alcohol and sport

A significant relationship between alcohol and sport spectatorship is well established in Australia. Research has demonstrated that sports fans drink more alcohol and experience more alcohol-related problems than non-sports fans. In Victoria, this is evidenced by increased rates of ambulance and emergency department attendances for intoxication after sporting events, including after Australian Football League (AFL) games. More detailed information on contexts and event-level factors that both encourage and limit heavy drinking by sports spectators is necessary to develop meaningful targeted interventions. This study will involve collection of detailed real-time information from people across multiple settings as they watch AFL using two novel data collection approaches: Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) combined with transdermal alcohol measurement using SCRAM-CAM monitors. This is a feasibility and pilot study. Our aim is to refine recruitment and data collection processes before expanding the sample and possibly extending the study to other sports beyond AFL.

Researchers: Amy Pennay, Cassandra Wright, Kelly van Egmond, Emmanuel Kuntsche, Daniel Anderson-Luxford, Gabriel Caluzzi, Michael Livingston, Geoff Dickson, Matthew Nicholson

Funder: La Trobe University (Building Healthy Communities Research Focus Area)

Opportunities for, and impacts of, community influence on alcohol licensing: a comparative study of examples in Australia and the UK

The participation of communities in local decisions and policymaking (for example alcohol licensing) is widely recognised as a democratic right and has been promoted in international guidance as an important mechanism for helping to reduce health harms from alcohol. Recent research has identified some examples of community engagement in alcohol licensing in the UK and Australia. However, we have little knowledge of how the unique licensing legislation, policy, social and historical contexts in the UK and Australia shape opportunities for community involvement in, and potential influence over, alcohol licensing decisions. We also know little about how different mechanisms of involvement, for example ‘top-down’ or ‘bottom-up’, might shape who in the community becomes involved in each context, and therefore whose voices are (and are not) heard when alcohol licensing decisions are made. This has implications for the health and social inequalities faced by some disadvantaged groups in relation to alcohol harms.

Using a comparative case study of community involvement in alcohol licensing processes, this research will understand more about how communities can be supported to help limit the health and social harms from alcohol in their local areas. Specifically it will:

- Identify and explore in-depth examples of community involvement in alcohol licensing in the UK and Australia, and the extent to which they are influential on licensing decisions;

- Compare and interpret these examples in relation to their local policy, social and historical contexts;

- Examine which groups are involved in these examples, and who is excluded, to identify potential impact on existing alcohol-related health inequalities within and between communities;

- Make recommendations for policy and practice about empowering communities to shape decisions about alcohol in their local areas, and to reduce health and social inequalities relating to alcohol.

La Trobe Researcher: Filip Djordjevic, Claire Wilkinson, Robyn Dwyer, Joanna Reynolds

Funder: La Trobe University and Sheffield Hallam University

Attitudes to non-drinkers in Australia

The proportion of Australians who choose not to drink alcohol has increased in recent years; yet, non-drinkers report experiences of stigma and judgement from peers for this choice. This study aims to explore the attitudes that exist towards non-drinkers and examine what drives this stigma. Using data from semi-structured focus groups, this study will provide insight into what is driving drinkers’ attitudes towards non-drinkers in Australia. As such, the study will extend our understanding of these attitudes, which may point towards public health efforts to reduce the stigma directed towards non-drinkers.

Researchers: Chris Cheers, Amy Pennay, Sarah Callinan

Funder: La Trobe University