Sasso, A., Hernández-Alava, M., Holmes, J., Field, M., Angus, C. and Meier, P., 2022.. Social Science & Medicine, 310, p.115280.  Read paper

The researchers from Sheffield used data from an online market research survey of 49,204 British adults on alcohol consumption and how individuals tried to moderate alcohol use to reduce their drinking from 2013 to 2019.

The participants were asked to keep a diary for seven days detailing how often they drank alcohol and how much they consumed. They were then asked about how they tried to moderate their drinking and asked to select one or more of these moderation techniques: Drinking on fewer occasions, Having fewer drinks on occasions when you have a drink, Having smaller sizes of drink, Choosing drinks with a lower alcohol content, Drinking soft drinks, or Drinking alcohol free beer or wine.

The most popular technique used by the participants (60%) was cutting down the number of drinking sessions, followed by trying to reduce the number of drinks per week (42%). Less than 10% used low alcohol or alcohol-free products, making this the least popular technique. This surprised me given the wider popularity and range of alcohol-free products now available in the UK. 

62% used a single technique to minimise alcohol consumption, while 38% used more than one of the six techniques they were asked to identify. Again, this is an interesting finding, as it is the minority that use multiple techniques rather than relying on just one. People who adopted a mix of strategies to moderate alcohol consumption drank less during the week.


This is an important study as it explores how people independently try to reduce their consumption of alcohol. These participants were trying to moderate their drinking without any professional support. Although there is evidence suggesting that people who drink at harmful levels benefit from specialist treatment, not everyone who would benefit accesses this type of support. This can be for a range of reasons, such as the support not being available in their local area through to negative beliefs around specialist treatment and those that use mental health services. Whatever the reason, it is clearly important that we understand what helps this group and how they can achieve their goal of cutting down on alcohol. 

Overall, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that those that adopted a mix of strategies drank less overall but, unfortunately, when they did drink, they consumed more alcohol. 
A useful piece of intelligence uncovered by the team is that age, drinking frequency and openness to try new alcoholic drinks all help to predict the type of moderation strategy used. This, as the authors point out, could help public health interventions more targeted and hopefully successful. 
With the future looking bleak for public health budgets due to the current political focus on economic growth, a growing number of people who have problems with alcohol will be left to their own devices. Anything we can glean about what works when trying to cut down alcohol and, therefore, reduce risks to health should improve their chances of success. That has the potential to save lives, this is research at its best.
Ian Hamilton, University of York

Article taken from our latest Clinical Update, edited by Mental Elf. To read the full Clinical Update please become a Premium CPD Member.

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