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Alcohol’s harm to others – a research perspective on the rise

  • Folkhälsa

- While there is a longer history of concern about alcohol’s harm to others, researchers’ interest has intensified in the last few years, professor Robin Room points out. He is one of the key note speakers at the thematic meeting of the Kettil Bruun Society (KBS) on alcohol’s harm to others in Helsinki in September 2015.

According to Robin Room, who is the director of the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research in Australia, three main traditions of research within the concept of alcohol’s harm to others have emerged: population survey studies of such harm from the perspective of the “other”, analysis of register or case-record data which includes information on the involvement of another’s drinking in the case and qualitative studies of interactions and experiences involved in particular harms from others’ drinking.

- In the course of the new spate of studies, many conceptual and methodological issues have arisen. Harm from others’ drinking is inherently interactional and subject to varying definitions of what counts as harm, and of attribution to drinking, says Room.

More than negative consequences

According to researcher Katariina Warpenius, from the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Finland, the concept of alcohol’s harm to others goes beyond naming and describing the negative consequences of drinking. Warpenius says that it points out specific kinds of harms, provides explanations on how harmful consequences are caused and diffused within the social fabric and indicates political solutions to such social problems.

- The alcohol’s harm to others perspective effectively shows that alcohol-related harms spread into multiple parts of the societal organism. The perspective serves as a cross-sectional criterion that should be taken into account whenever and wherever studying harms from drinking, Warpenius says.

- Alongside the growing research interest in alcohol´s harm to others there is a parallel political discourse stressing the urgency of alcohol policy measures protecting innocent victims against damage from others´ alcohol use.

Warpenius says that the alcohol’s harm to others perspective is seen by some as a potential political tool for the public health lobby in arguing for controls on the alcohol market.

Collaborating towards a shared research approach

During the first day of the conference there were also presentations about the WHO Thai Health project on alcohol’s harm to others, the Nordic research collaboration on alcohol’s harm to others (H2O Nordic) coordinated by the Nordic Centre for Welfare and Social Issues, and about the WHO global alcohol strategy, which represents a unique consensus among all WHO member states on ways to tackle harmful use of alcohol at all levels.

- The growing interest in the harm to others research approach has already resulted in important information about alcohol’s effects on society on a broad spectrum. There are however also some problems related to this research approach, for instance methodological concerns and differences in tolerance and interpreting harm. Conferences and international research collaboration promote processes towards building a more solid foundation for understanding and researching alcohol’s harm to others, says Nina Karlsson, project manager at the Nordic Welfare Centre.

The KBS thematic meeting is co-organized by the Nordic Welfare Centre, the National Institute for Health and Welfare (Finland), the Institute for Alcohol and Drug Research (Norway), the Centre for Alcohol and Drug Research (Denmark) and the Council for Information on Alcohol and Other Drugs (Sweden).

Kettil Bruun Society (new window)

H2O Nordic - Alkoholskador på tredje part

Foto: Julius von Wright

Professor Robin Room
Jessica Gustafsson


Jessica Gustafsson



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