Christmas Drinking: New research explores the effects of an appearance-focused intervention for alcohol use

By Dr Alison Owen, Lecturer in Psychology.

Research by Cancer Research UK suggests that young adults will drink an average of 62 units – the equivalent of 30 glasses of wine or 22 pints of beer – in the run-up to Christmas. As Christmas party season approaches, researchers in the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research & Centre for Health Psychology are looking into ways to encourage people to stick to the government’s recommended alcohol guidelines. Myself and Dr Keira Flett are in the initial stages of analysing research from a pilot study, looking at the impact of an appearance-focussed intervention designed to encourage safer alcohol consumption in students. The researchers are focusing on appearance following their previous research looking at smoking and UV exposure behaviours (Grogan et al., 2011a, 2011b; Flett et al., 2013, 2017; Williams et al., 2012, 2013a, 2013b, 2013c, 2014), which found that young people are more likely to be persuaded to change their health behaviours if they believe that carrying out that particular behaviour will damage their appearance.

Students taking part in the current study were shown how their skin may age if they drank in excess of the recommended guidelines, compared to how their skin may age if they drank within the considered healthy limits. They were able to see themselves ageing from their current age, up to the age of 72 years. Participants were recorded during the sessions, so that the researchers could hear how participants responded to the intervention as they viewed it. The researchers are currently in the process of analysing and writing up their findings. In the future, we plan to expand the research to compare the effectiveness of the appearance-focussed intervention with a health-focussed intervention, where participants read about the health impacts of binge drinking and drinking above the recommended alcohol limits.

The UK government guidelines state that to keep health risks from alcohol to a low level it is safest not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis, and that if you regularly drink as much as this, it is best to spread your drinking evenly over three or more days. If you are interested in finding out more about the recommendations or have any concerns about your alcohol consumption during this festive season and beyond, then please visit

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