Second Hand Drinking?

by  Erica Brooks, Prevention and Health Promotion Coordinator, Addiction Services, SSH

In general, we have not seen the concept of “secondhand” applied to alcohol. Secondhand would mean consequences harming third parties. People and communities are constantly harmed by heavy drinking by others. Binge or heavy drinkers are responsible for injury or death to others, violence, suicide, and sexual assaults. Alcohol use makes living conditions in some neighborhoods intolerable due to rowdy behaviors, late night noise, and vandalism and property damage.

Up until now, these secondhand alcohol effects have not generated a social attention. Especially with our younger generation, this behavior is accepted as normal. This acceptance is creating a toxic social environment for harmful alcohol use both on and off university campuses. People drink this way because there are no social consequences.

Secondhand alcohol effects are real. It remains a challenge for health promotion to design ways to change behaviours from destructive drinking to moderate levels. We continue to rely on education campaigns and policies to limit the harm. While educational programs have not shown much success, there are many policy solutions that could reduce alcohol related harms in our communities. It will take time to build a community readiness to accept and establish policy solutions. Attitudes which accept secondhand alcohol effects as normal are the same ones which are barriers to policy solutions.

A quote to ponder from the Centre for Addictions Research BC …

“If the frogs in a pond started behaving strangely, our first reaction would not be to punish them or even to treat them. Instinctively, we’d wonder what was going on in the pond. We need to take this same ecological approach when considering harmful patterns of alcohol use.”

How do we begin to change our culture of alcohol use?

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