UK: Is The Nation Sobering Up?

Last Updated: 25 February 2015
Article by Elizabeth Hampson and Nicole Malouf

Most Read Contributor in UK, August 2017

This week we are pleased to share perspectives on how behaviour change can help tackle harmful drinking from our colleagues Liz Hampson and Nicole Malouf, – This is a short thought piece to be presented at The Global Chief Medical officers Network.

Alcohol abuse is a substantial burden to public health. There are about 3.3 million deaths attributable to alcohol worldwide, representing 5.9 per cent of all mortality.i In 2012, an English Health and Social Care Information Centre survey reported that of those who had consumed alcohol within the last week, 55 per cent of men and 53 per cent of women drank more alcohol than the recommended limit, with 31 per cent of men and 24 per cent of women drinking more than twice the recommended daily amount.ii This high incidence of harmful drinking leads to serious chronic health conditions, disability, and mental illness and the economic burden is equally substantial, with the estimated cost to society of alcohol-related harm in England some £21 billion per year. This includes £3.5 billion in NHS spending, £11 billion in crime-related costs, and £7.3 billion in lost productivity.iii

A 2009 Omnibus survey report on drinking asked respondents whether they had heard of measuring alcohol consumption in units, 90 per cent had, an increase from 79 per cent in 1997. Likewise the percentage of people who had heard of daily drinking limits had increased from 54 per cent in 1997 to 75 per cent.iv Awareness of safer drinking levels is not sufficient to drive behavioural change and, despite rising awareness, alcohol-related deaths have risen by 19 per cent between 2001 and 2012 (with 6,490 deaths in England in 2012).v Nevertheless, there is a growing body of evidence that this harmful behaviour can be changed and recent statistics show that since 2012 there has been a decrease in alcohol related deaths including a measurable reduction in harmful drinking in the 18 year

The stages of change model

The science behind the study of behaviour argues that change is possible through deliberate strategy and action planning. Studies show that it takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days (with a mean of 66 days) of actively pursuing a behaviour to form a new habit.vii One model commonly referred to in discussing behaviour change is the Stages of Change Model which assigns five stages to the process. In this scheme people move from a pre-contemplation phase of either unawareness or lack of interest in change; to a contemplation stage with increased appreciation of problems where thoughts about making a change begin to form; to a third or preparation stage where a decision is made to act and planning for the change is strategised. The fourth stage in the model is the action stage, where the planned change is carried out.viii Once action has been taken, the focus shifts to maintenance and prevention of relapse. Unfortunately, it is common for people to cycle through the prior stages as part of a pattern of regression and procession.

Power of social media

Social media has provided a new instrument for facilitating movement through these stages of change as it provides easy access to information and sharing of information from friends and other subscribed links. The e-messenger delivering the information is also more likely to be trusted. This, in turn, makes people more receptive to the message, which can serve to help increase contemplation for change. Indeed, it seems norms are increasingly driven by what is seen online as social media allows for tracking of friends' posted activities and thoughts. Therefore, programmes promoting behaviour change would be expected to have a higher uptake where friends and other social media contacts are also involved. Finally, the act of making an online, public commitment to change a behaviour (whether through a posted statement committing to a change or through a more formal online participation)is, in essence, seen as a social contract. Once a commitment is made there is a drive to succeed in order to satisfy one's ego, thus a commitment to action that is easily made online becomes an effort to sustain a period of positive behaviour change.

Dry January – the way forward?

One example of a successful social media behavioural change program is Alcohol Concern's "Dry January". The campaign seeks to raise awareness and reduce harmful drinking behaviour by challenging people to abstain from alcohol for the month of January. Results have been impressive. During the 2014 campaign, 17,312 people took part online, there were 25,077 likes on the Dry January Facebook page, 3,461 followers of the programme's Twitter account, and 10 online advice sessions with over 10,000 participants. In addition to the large participation rate, the programme demonstrated a meaningful and sustained lifestyle change in the members through long-term reductions in alcohol consumption. Six months on from Dry January, 4 per cent of surveyed participants were still alcohol-free and 23 per cent of participants who had "harmful" rates of consumption prior to the programme were in the "low risk" classification. Although those responding to the survey will be self-selecting and more likely to have completed the programme, this shows that despite the relatively short length of the Dry January programme, sustainable change has been achieved for some.ix

The Dry January Facebook page shows in the posted comments the feelings of many that completed the challenge and the positive change in attitude and behaviour it is brought to them:

Well I have done dry January and managed to lose 1 stone 3lb!!!!
I am not stopping either!!! Bring on February!!!
I have been fine and dandy with it and having learned a bit about
why I am prompted to have a drink, and how nice it feels to find
alternatives. I am set to carry on with it, so thanks!

New academic research shows that participants who have completed Alcohol Concern's behaviour change campaign are now drinking less, and also drinking in less harmful ways. The evidence shows six months after completing a Dry January, participants are now not only drinking less frequently and drinking less per drinking day, but they're also getting drunk less.


i Global Status Report of Alcohol and Health 2014, World Health Organization 2014 Available at:

ii Health and Social Care Information Centre. Statistics on Alcohol – England, 2014. May 29.2014. Available at

iii Secretary of State for the Home Department (March 2012), The Government's Alcohol Strategy, HM Government

ivHealth and Social Care Information Centre. Statistics on Alcohol – England, 2014. May 29, 2014. Available at

v Ibid


vii P Lally, et al. How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology 2010; 40:998-1009

viii GL Zimmerman, et al. A 'Stages of Change' Approach to Helping Patients Change Behavior. Am Fam Physician 2000;61(5):1409-1416

ix Alcohol Concern. Academic research reveals Dry January leads to less drinking all year round. November 13, 2014. Available at:


The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.