12 Nov, 2014 Last updated: 19 Mar, 2015

It's telling that the only times we consider drinking inappropriate are at church, at a baby shower or in a study group. Virtually everywhere else, the research tells us, it's culturally acceptable for Victorians to drink.

Evidence abounds about the ways alcohol is woven into our social fabric. It’s to be found in everyday life and at special occasions, from having a couple of quiet ones on a weeknight to booze-fuelled weddings, parties and funerals. But our relationship with alcohol is double-edged: on the one hand, according to VicHealth research2, Victorians admit they are fond of drinking – it makes socialising fun, reduces stress and smooths the path to new friendships. On the other hand, there is disquiet about the negative effects: hangovers, violence, the financial cost and the mistakes made after too many drinks3.

Although the negative health effects of heavy drinking are broadly recognised risky drinking continues to be much more common among those aged 16–294.

As part of Reducing the Alcohol and Drug Toll: Victoria’s plan 2013–2017, the Victorian Government partnered with VicHealth to engage and empower young people to challenge Victoria’s heavy drinking culture and, ultimately, influence social norms around how we are drinking. The Alcohol Cultural Change project is funded for two years and comprises two phases. VicHealth CEO Jerril Rechter describes the first phase of the campaign as "the conversation we as a society needed to have – to enable us to come up with solutions as a community".

NameThatPoint promotional posterThe campaign, NameThatPoint, was unlike other public health marketing efforts to reduce excessive alcohol consumption in Australia, which depict harms from drinking alcohol. NameThatPoint took a different approach by trying something new and engaging people in a positive conversation about Victoria’s drinking culture.

It encouraged young people to share their experiences and thoughts about drinking via questions on the NameThatPoint website and social media. They discussed subjects including their drinking habits, how they avoid intoxication and their views on the positives and negatives of alcohol.

Central to NameThatPoint was a competition to name the moment in the evening when clear thinking turns to more drinking. The campaign, run over 17 weeks (December 2013 to March 2014), had quite an impact: the video was viewed over 143,000 times, there were nearly 46,000 unique visits to the website and 1,800 submissions to the competition. Michael Sanders, a 24-year-old from Fitzroy, won for his submission 'The Chill Point', which he described as "the point in the night where you have to chill out, reassess and have clarity so you can continue your night in a safe and fun manner."

An evaluation of NameThatPoint conducted by Colmar Brunton, a market research agency, which included a survey of people who took part in the campaign, found it was effective in reaching the target audience and prompting them to think about alcohol and its place in their lives.

Colmar Brunton Managing Director Jenny Witham said there was an overwhelmingly large amount of positive feedback for the campaign by the public.

"Respondents said they thought it was a realistic campaign because it wasn’t trying to stop people drinking entirely but to be sensible about it. They also found it to be non-judgmental, entertaining and relatable.

"While it wasn’t the primary purpose of the campaign, we were also very pleased to see that a significant proportion of users – three in 10 – reported they had modified their behaviour and drank less alcohol as a result."

No Excuse Needed advertisementVicHealth's communication with young people on alcohol continues with phase two of the Alcohol Cultural Change program, a campaign called No Excuse Needed, launched on September 24. To inform and support this program VicHealth, with funding from the Victorian Law Enforcement Drug Research Fund, and working with the Social Research Group, conducted an Australian-first population-wide survey to measure Victoria’s alcohol culture.

Our research shows that 42 per cent of young Victorian adults (aged 16–29) feel pressure to drink and many feel the need to use an excuse for saying no to another drink5. In fact 61 per cent of young Victorian drinkers do not drink to get drunk6, which indicates that the majority of young people want to drink moderately, but need to be empowered to do so.

The No Excuse Needed campaign uses humour to show young Victorians they don’t need an excuse if they don’t want to keep drinking. Young Victorians perceive intoxication as acceptable behaviour because they believe most of their peers drink the same or more than they do. However, this isn’t the case and such misperceptions create an unhealthy drinking culture where moderation gives way to excess.

1 VicHealth 2013, Drinking-related lifestyles: exploring the role of alcohol in Victorians’ lives, Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, Melbourne.
2 VicHealth 2013, VicHealth Alcohol Cultural Change Research, Qualitative Report: Results of Integrated Groups, Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, Melbourne (unpublished).
3 Ibid.
4 Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education 2013, Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education Poll: attitudes and behaviours, Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, Canberra.
5 VicHealth 2014, A snapshot of Victoria’s alcohol culture: Selected findings, Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, Melbourne.
6 Ibid.