Anti-drinking ads can backfire

I suspect that what I am about to share will upset more than a few people. That is not my intention, however, I feel compelled to pass along information that might assist our larger community.

Although there have been several decades of anti- drinking and responsible drinking education and publicity efforts, most agree that the success of these efforts has been nominal. Alcohol is linked to over 79,000 American deaths every year.

Indiana University scientists have completed a field of research that suggests that anti-drinking ads that utilize guilt or shame themes can have an unintended effect; they can cause people to drink more alcohol. Ostensibly, the research showed that the ads "triggered an innate coping mechanism that enabled viewers to distance themselves from the serious consequences of reckless drinking behaviors."

The co-author of the study, Adam Duhachek, stated, "The situation is worse than just wasted money or effort. These ads do more harm than good because they have the potential to spur more of the behavior that they are trying to prevent."

Duhacheks' research focused on ads that link the consequences of drinking such as car accidents or black outs with guilt or shame messages. The findings are particularly important to American Universities where alcohol abuse has reached an unprecedented and more dangerous level. Each year, drinking among college students contributes to an estimated 1700 student deaths, 600,00 injuries, 700,00 assaults, and 90,000 sexual assaults.

Duhachek is encouraging the framers of public health messages to construct anti drinking messages that convey the dire consequences along with strong messages of empowerment.

"If you are going to communicate a frightening scenario, temper it with the idea that it is avoidable," said Duhalek, "It's best to use the carrot along with the stick."

I can honestly say that I do not know what the most effective message might be to warn of the dangers of abusing alcohol. What I do know is that we must be open to new and innovative approaches. The message must change with the times. Can you imagine anyone taking the movie "Reefer Madness" seriously today as a warning against marijuana? I rest my case. Remember all kids count.

Scot Hurlburt can be reached by e-mail at hurlburt@wildblue.net

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