The families and friends of heavy drinkers: Caught in the cross-fire of policy change?



O'May F, Whittaker A, Black H & Gill J (2017) The families and friends of heavy drinkers: Caught in the cross-fire of policy change?. Drug and Alcohol Review, 36 (2), pp. 192-199.

Introduction and Aims Research highlights the need to better understand the impact of alcohol‐related harm on families and communities. Scottish policy initiatives to reduce alcohol consumption and alcohol‐related harm include the planned introduction of a minimum unit price for alcohol. We aimed to explore existing and proposed changes in alcohol policy, from the standpoint of heavy drinkers, through accounts of their involvement and repercussions for family and friends. Design and Methods Interviews were conducted with 20 heavy drinkers, recruited from hospital alcohol treatment centres in Scotland's two largest cities. Participants were part of a larger longitudinal mixed methods study. Interviews explored experiences of alcohol‐related harm and the impact, or potential impact, of alcohol policy changes on drinking patterns, risk‐taking, consumption and wellbeing. Data coded for ‘family and friends’ were thematically analysed using a constant comparison method. Results Family and friends were portrayed as important for aiding moderation and abstinence, but more often for sustaining continued heavy drinking. Heavy drinkers with complex needs and those living in deprived communities suggested that increased alcohol prices could exacerbate the detrimental effect on their health and social circumstances, and that of their family, should their consumption remain excessive. Discussion and Conclusions Population level policy initiatives to reduce alcohol consumption, such as minimum unit pricing, will impact on the families and social networks of heavy drinkers in addition to the drinker. The most vulnerable may be affected disproportionately. Alcohol policy changes and evaluations need to consider consequences for drinkers, families and communities.

substance‐related disorders; alcohol; family; policy; qualitative method

Drug and Alcohol Review: Volume 36, Issue 2

FundersAlcohol Research UK, NHS Health Scotland, Chief Scientist Office, Scotland, NHS Lothian Foundation Trust and Scottish Mental Health Research Network
Publication date31/03/2017
Publication date online13/04/2016
Date accepted by journal05/02/2016

People (2)


Dr Jan Gill

Dr Jan Gill

Honorary Professor, NMAHP

Professor Anne Whittaker

Professor Anne Whittaker

Professor of Nursing, NMAHP