How can nudging help with alcohol consumption?

There’s a big problem with alcohol consumption in Denmark. The country is the proud European leader in the amount of alcohol drunk by the young generation. 

The problem is partly influenced by the low price of beer and wine. The other and the most important reason for the enormously big consumption is the accept of alcohol as a “door opener” in social situations. The young and the insecure use alcohol as a common ground for establishing new relations.

All the studies at the university start with a “rustur”, when the students get to know each other while drinking 5 days in a row. Much, much alcohol, resulting in bad decisions and a lot of vomiting. 

So now that we know about the social role of drinking how can we nudge the young to drink less? 

We can approach the problem as a habit. As Duhigg explains, all habits consist of a 

  1. The trigger. An event that starts the habit.
  2. The action. The core of the habitual behavior.
  3. The gratification. What you get from the habit. 

To change a habit, there must be a change in one of the three parts of a habit. If we analyze the young peoples drinking habit with these three parameters, we can see, that if drinking is the core action and gratificationis the good relationships, then the trigger is the whole setup. For example, the rustur is historically an event for drinking. For years it has been associated with hard partying! So that means that if we try to change the trigger, it means the change of a historically big part of the students’ life. It would require years or even decades to do that! 

If we try to change the core action, we have more options. We can think about the nudges that can be implemented everywhere anytime. Here we should make alcohol not so easy to get access to and offer replacements. These can be some ideas:

  • Placement of the fridge a place outside from the house or in farther distance from the place where rustur is taking place. The closer the fridge to the location of the party, the more will be drunk. 
  • Placing a picture of a person looking at you beside the fridge. The face will make you more aware of someone’s judgement and you will take less beer or wine.
  • Smaller sized bottles, so for your brain it will look like you have drunk much more than you actually did. Let the empty beer cans and bottles stay on the table, so that it is possible to have a clearer understanding of how much has been drunk. 
  • Fewer choice options. Just one type of beer or one type of wine will make you drink less because it’ll not evoke your curiosity to try something new. 
  • Put the water bottles in front in the fridge and the beers on less easily approachable shelves.

The impact of drinking as something that creates a common ground for establishing relations is understood, as alcohol being a sedative makes us more relaxed in new social situations. Can we find other ways to relax without drinking? I guess the answer to this question might be found through creative exploration of each team or group of people. I hope Denmark will make an effort in doing that in the near future! 

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