19/10/2012 13:54 BST | Updated 19/12/2012 05:12 GMT

Paying the Price of Middle-Aged Drinking

Flickr: alex ranaldi

The latest research from Alcohol Concern relating to costs associated with treating middle-aged drinkers compared with 16-24-year-olds, highlights the urgency for government and health professionals to understand the benefits of targeted social marketing campaigns in both influencing behaviour and contributing to vital public sector savings.

Over the past few years, we have seen an increase in efforts to articulate the dangers of excessive drinking to young adults, through campaigns such as 'You wouldn't start a night like this' and 'Don't let the good times turn bad'. Whilst such examples of social marketing are commendable, this study by Alcohol Concern demonstrates the impact that alcohol abuse is having on the older generation and hence highlights the unsuitability of a 'one size fits all' approach to alcohol awareness.

Alcohol awareness campaigns specifically targeted at younger drinkers have resulted in general alcohol consciousness for wider society being overshadowed. Middle aged drinkers enjoying a bottle of wine each night may view themselves as being in stark contrast with the widely portrayed image of a 'binge drinker', but in reality their habits are a danger to their health and a drain on society, and this research raises awareness of the repercussions of drinking over a sustained period.

There is henceforth a real need for wider targeted awareness campaigns which connect with drinkers from all age groups and demographics in society. Social marketing can play a vital role in this, and must be embraced by the NHS to tackle issues such as alcohol abuse at its roots through empowering individuals to adopt a particular behaviour change. Social marketing campaigns such as Change4Life succeed because they are effective in demonstrating to individuals why it is in their interests to make lifestyle changes, without the wagging finger of an authoritative figure dictating to them what to do.

A commonly expressed solution to the problem of excessive drinking is to raise the price of alcohol. However, whilst we should acknowledge the continued efforts to address this issue, this somewhat misses the point. More significant is the need to tackle underlying behavioural issues before they evolve into wider problems for both the NHS and society.

Cost is rarely as prohibitive as it aims to be; seldom changing the behaviour itself. If the aim is truly to address alcohol abuse - rather than appease campaigners in the short term - social marketing is the key driver to this change. Without a consideration to social marketing, the plans become counter-intuitive as they merely serve to increase public suspicion about government interference, without positively changing the detrimental habits and attitudes.

Widespread social campaigns targeting drinkers of all ages by the government can be effective in not only saving money, but saving lives.