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Navigating Alcohol During the Euros and Alcohol Awareness Week

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Lee Hawker-Lecesne, MBPsS, clinical director at The Cabin, Asia’s premier rehabilitation centre, is helping raise awareness about alcohol consumption and drinking habits this Alcohol Awareness Week (1st – 7th July). Tournaments such as the Euros create a strong social element around football viewing, with increased pub gatherings and barbecues with friends and family centred around matches becoming the norm. Alcohol often acts as a lubricant for socialising and shared emotional experiences, intensifying the excitement and camaraderie but it can also bring about dangerous levels of consumption.

Lee comments: “Alcohol consumption is a deeply woven thread in the fabric of human societies. However, trends in drinking habits are constantly evolving, and their connection to national and international events raises complex questions. A prime example of this is the quadrennial Euros football tournament, a crucible of national pride across Europe that presents a strategic opportunity for the alcohol industry to exploit established psychological principles and trigger a surge in consumption. This manipulation hinges on a meticulously crafted narrative that weaves emotional connection, social identity, and the fear of missing out (FOMO) into a potent cocktail of influence”.

As Alcohol Awareness Week underscores the importance of responsible drinking, a stark contrast emerges during major sporting events like the Euros. Here Lee looks at the current landscape of drinking in the UK, exploring its links to national identity, the impacts on individuals and society, the strategies employed by the alcohol industry, and potential countermeasures to limit the dangers.

A global shift: Binge drinking in the UK

Across the globe, a trend towards moderation is emerging. Europe, particularly the Mediterranean countries, exemplifies this shift, with a focus on quality over quantity and a culture of responsible social drinking. In stark contrast, the UK presents a unique case. Here, a culture of binge drinking persists, particularly around major sporting events like the Euros. Studies by the Centre for Social Marketing at the University of Stirling show a significant rise in alcohol sales during these tournaments, with beer sales increasing by 20–30% and pubs experiencing a surge in patronage. Research by the University of Liverpool linked a 16% increase in alcohol-related hospital admissions to the 2018 World Cup, highlighting the concerning link between national events and excessive alcohol consumption in the UK.

National identity in the glass

The intertwining of alcohol and national identity is concerning phenomenon in the UK. Major sporting events become platforms for displaying national pride, often accompanied by increased alcohol consumption. National flags, team colours, and celebratory themes are heavily featured in alcohol advertising campaigns in the UK, creating a subconscious link between national identity and the product. The University of Stirling study suggests that while there might be a slight moderation in drinking when the UK teams perform well, the overall increase in consumption during tournaments remains a significant public health concern.

The beautiful game and booze: How football fuels drinking in the UK

International football tournaments like the Euros create a potent cocktail of national pride, sporting excitement, and a surge in alcohol consumption across the UK. This phenomenon has significant social, cultural, and economic implications. While celebrating national victories with friends is a common human experience, the UK grapples with a unique challenge: a culture of binge drinking that intertwines with major sporting events. This excessive consumption can lead to a rise in alcohol-related incidents, strain healthcare resources, and create a societal expectation that celebrating sporting success necessitates heavy drinking.

Social and cultural aspects: Micro and macro effects

The media often portrays football viewing as synonymous with alcohol consumption. This constant normalisation through sports programming can influence drinking habits, particularly among young people exposed to these messages. Additionally, alcohol sponsorships are prevalent in televised matches, further blurring the lines between sport and alcohol. Football and drinking have become intertwined in the public consciousness, creating a powerful cultural association. For some, these intertwined elements become a source of national identity and a sense of belonging. However, this cultural association can overshadow responsible drinking practices and lead to harmful consequences.

Industry tactics and the power of influence

The alcohol industry is a powerful force, employing sophisticated marketing strategies to capitalise on national fervor and encourage increased consumption in the UK. Limited-edition packaging featuring national team colours or tournament logos, sponsorship deals with televised matches, and social media campaigns all play a role. These tactics are designed to tap into emotional connections with national pride while subtly suggesting that alcohol enhances celebratory experiences and creating a sense of urgency through limited-time promotions. Furthermore, influencer marketing leverages the trust consumers have in online personalities, potentially encouraging emulation of their drinking habits.

Marketing strategies: Cashing in on the craze

The alcohol industry capitalises on competitions like the Euro with targeted advertising campaigns. Lee comments: “These campaigns often feature football imagery, celebratory themes, and promotions linked to match-viewing. This targeted marketing strategy reinforces the association between football and alcohol consumption. Furthermore, alcohol brands heavily sponsor televised matches, associating their products with the excitement of the tournament. This constant exposure normalises associating alcohol with sporting events, making it seem like an inseparable part of the experience.”

The Euros create a crucible of national pride across Europe, presenting a strategic opportunity for the alcohol industry to exploit established psychological principles and trigger a surge in consumption. This manipulation hinges on a meticulously crafted narrative that weaves emotional connection, social identity, and the fear of missing out (FOMO) into a potent cocktail of influence.

Emotional hijack: The power of association

The narrative establishes a powerful associative bond. Images of jubilant fans, adorned in national colours, erupt in cheers as their team scores. “These scenes are strategically paired with clinking glasses and overflowing beers,” says Lee, “subtly forging an implicit association between national pride and alcohol consumption in the viewer’s mind. This “emotional hijack” leverages the classical conditioning framework, where a neutral stimulus (national team victory) becomes paired with a positive reinforcer (alcohol) to elicit a conditioned response (increased desire to drink).”

Social proof and the in-group mentality

Next, the industry exploits the human need for social belonging and the influence of social proof. Advertising depicts lively pub atmospheres where friends bond over pints while fixated on the Euros match. “This strategy is designed to trigger the amygdala, the brain’s fear centre, subtly activating the fear of isolation,” suggests Lee. Viewers are pressured to conform and join the “in-group” by participating in the Euros-fueled drinking ritual. Social media amplifies this effect, with influencers showcasing their “Euros fun” fueled by alcohol, creating a pervasive sense of FOMO. “This is deliberately designed to leverage the power of social comparison theory,” suggests Lee, “where individuals evaluate their own behaviour against that of a perceived in-group, leading to a desire to conform to avoid social rejection.”

The anchoring bias and availability cascade

Further manipulation hinges on exploiting cognitive biases. Discounted “Euros specials” establish a price anchor, making regular prices seem exorbitant in comparison. Lee suggests “this exploits the anchoring bias, where an initial piece of information (discounted price) disproportionately influences subsequent judgments (perceived value of regular price).” Additionally, the constant barrage of alcohol advertising during the tournament makes alcoholic beverages hyper-available in the minds of viewers. “This capitalises on the availability cascade,” suggests Lee, “where repeated exposure to a stimulus (alcohol advertising) increases the perceived likelihood of its occurrence (purchasing a drink).

Desensitisation and the normalisation of excess

The industry employs desensitisation techniques to normalise excessive consumption. Humorous advertising featuring exaggerated drinking behaviour downplays the risks and portrays heavy alcohol use as an expected and even desirable part of the Euros experience. Lee describes how this “repeated exposure to excessive consumption behaviours leads to a decreased emotional response (desensitisation) and a distorted perception of social norms. Viewers may come to believe that such behaviour is the norm, at least in the short term, further pressuring individuals to conform and engage in excessive drinking.”

By understanding these psychological tactics, individuals can equip themselves with the knowledge to resist manipulation during the Euros. “Educating the public about these strategies empowers informed decision-making,” says Lee, “and it can help promote responsible drinking habits, ensuring a celebratory and healthy experience for everyone throughout the competition.”

A cascade of consequences

The individual and societal impacts of excessive alcohol consumption are significant in the UK. Individuals experience a range of health risks, including:

  • Liver damage
  • Heart disease
  • An increased risk of accidents and injuries
  • Prolonged drinking can lead to or exacerbate other mental health issues, relationship breakdowns, and job losses.
  • Socially, the burden of alcohol-related incidents places a further strain on an already overwhelmed National Health Service (NHS) and emergency services.

Countering the current

Beyond the Euros, several strategies offer hope for mitigating the dangers associated with excessive alcohol consumption in the UK. Public health campaigns launched by bodies like the NHS play a crucial role in raising awareness about the risks of binge drinking and promoting responsible drinking practices. Educating young people about advertising tactics and empowering them to make informed choices is critical. Additionally, promoting alternative ways to celebrate national events, such as focusing on the sporting spectacle itself or highlighting non-alcoholic beverage options, can create a more inclusive and healthier environment.

A call for collective action in the UK

Understanding the complex interplay between drinking trends, national identity, public health, and the influence of the alcohol industry in the UK is crucial. Lee believes that addressing this multifaceted issue requires a collective effort. Here’s Lee’s advice on what we should be doing to counteract these problems:

  • Strengthening regulations: The incoming UK government can establish stricter regulations on alcohol advertising, particularly targeting vulnerable demographics and limiting marketing around national events.
  • Promoting media literacy: Education programs can equip young people with media literacy skills to critically analyse marketing messages and make informed choices about alcohol consumption. We complain about the impact of social media on young people’s mental health and urge ministers to start calling Facebook and urge TikTok to take action, but the next generation of drinkers is already being brainwashed into believing alcohol is synonymous with pleasure.
  • Supporting recovery programs: We need greater availability of well-funded treatment programs for individuals struggling with alcohol dependence in the UK, alongside an increase in health promotion funding.
  • Technological solutions: Social media platforms and app developers in the UK need to take greater responsibility; age verification measures and responsible advertising practices should be implemented to limit the negative influence of technology on drinking habits.

By fostering a culture of responsible drinking and implementing effective countermeasures, we can move towards a future where national pride and celebration in the UK are not synonymous with excessive alcohol consumption. It’s important for people to know that by understanding the psychological tactics used by drink manufacturers, they can equip themselves with the tools to resist manipulation during events like the Euros. Educating the public about these strategies empowers informed decision-making and promotes responsible drinking habits, ensuring a celebratory and healthier experience for all. Ultimately, a healthy and informed society is essential for ensuring that both the pride we have in our collective national identity and social gatherings are occasions for joy and connection, not a gateway to potential harm.

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