Reducing harm caused by alcohol


Blog post for Alcohol Awareness Week 2023: Interview with Diane Thomson

Alcohol Focus Scotland offers a range of training courses to help people understand, manage and prevent the harm caused by alcohol. For Alcohol Awareness Week 2023, we spoke with Diane Thomson, Senior Learning and Engagement Coordinator. Diane runs our two Alcohol Awareness Courses and has been a trainer with AFS for just over 10 years.


Tell me a bit about your role.

My work is really varied, from working with primary school teachers, social care workers, to line managers in basically any kind of organisation in Scotland. We often have line managers looking to increase their knowledge and their skills, especially around how to confidently raise the issue of alcohol problems with their workforce.


Why does alcohol awareness need dedicated training?

It’s so important to spend time with people and talk about some of the attitudes around alcohol. A frequent conversation topic is the normalisation and social acceptability of drinking alcohol and being drunk, and using alcohol for almost any social event. People are often quite taken aback when they really stop and think about how much alcohol has infiltrated their daily lives. In our society, we're almost drenched in alcohol. It's almost like a metaphor!

We also help people understand what alcohol is as a substance. People often under-report their consumption, not because they’re trying to be misleading, but because they don't have enough information about what constitutes a unit of alcohol. People are shocked to learn that a bottle of wine, at 13% contains 10 units. And then when we talk about low-risk drinking being a maximum of 14 units per week, spread across the week, the penny drops for them about much that bottle of wine makes up of their 14 units.


What are the main objectives and outcomes of the courses?

Understanding the impact of alcohol on our society and being aware of the harm it causes on the individual person’s health and to everyone around them.

For the half-day Alcohol Awareness course, participants learn to describe alcohol and how it affects the body, its impact on Scottish society, and apply basic strategies to support those affected by alcohol.

Our full-day Alcohol Affects Us All course covers similar content to the Alcohol Awareness course and adds more detail and specific knowledge on current policies and approaches taken in response to alcohol harm, like minimum unit pricing and alcohol brief interventions.


Who would benefit the most from attending and why?

Everyone! Alcohol affects everyone, every single one of us. We may not all drink alcohol, but we are all impacted or affected to some degree and at some level, in terms of other people's drinking and the impact on our communities. So, it's basically everyone.

Most people will have an opinion about their alcohol consumption and alcohol in general. It’s just great to talk with people about it, and we get to challenge certain attitudes and give people facts about alcohol. The people that we're training are often members of the public, so they don't necessarily have any specialist alcohol knowledge.


Are there any myths and misconceptions you frequently encounter?

Most people are unaware that every single tip and trick on how to sober up isn’t real, apart from one – and you’ll need to sign up to find out! Everything else that we’ve seen in movies is a myth, like getting put into a cold shower, or being given a pot of coffee. That’s not what your body needs. People are always surprised about the length of time that alcohol takes to go through your system, especially in terms of driving the following morning.


How do you engage participants and facilitate effective learning?

The courses get some really good group discussions going. We have lots of interactive exercises, lots of small group discussions and quizzes. We also have scenarios where we give people a fictitious night out and walk them through the night.

For example, you’re meeting up with friends for a drink, and then you’re at a restaurant having wine with your meal, and then you go to a bar. And at every step we get people to guess how many units that will be. At the end of the night, we look at the total number of units over the course of that evening and talk about how long your body would actually take to process that amount of alcohol. We also get people to pour out what they think different measurements of drinks are, like how much an 125ml glass of wine is, and people sometimes pour enough for 250ml!


In your experience, what are some of the key benefits participants get from attending alcohol awareness courses?

I think gaining that knowledge just gives people confidence to manage their own alcohol consumption, be more critical of what they read in the news, and learn how to talk with other people about alcohol harms.


Alcohol Awareness Week is an annual event aimed at raising awareness about alcohol-related issues. Why is it important, and how does it relate to the alcohol awareness courses you deliver?

It’s a really good way for workplaces to have Alcohol Awareness sessions. It’s also important because alcohol causes such harm in our society, generally, not only to individuals who are maybe risking their health and possibly risking their life, but also because of the knock-on effect for people living with people who drink heavily. That includes children too, who are living in sometimes very difficult circumstances. Alcohol Awareness Week can open the door for people to go and seek help, because they learn that there is support out there for them and that recovery is possible.


For more information about the courses and next available dates please visit our Events page.


3 July 2023