Reducing harm caused by alcohol


Students as Change Agents

In June Alcohol Focus Scotland was a challenge partner for the University of Edinburgh as part of their Students as Change Agents Programme. The programme is a living lab and allows students to work with external organisations to tackle real world issues and generate new ideas.

Student as change agents logo

How can Scotland prevent lives being harmed by alcohol?

As part of the programme we asked the students to explore challenge question “How can Scotland prevent lives being harmed by alcohol?”

The students worked across three multi-disciplinary groups to learn more about Scotland’s relationship with alcohol, the impact this has and to generate ideas on how to reduce the impact of alcohol related harm. Each group generated a final report and presentation of their ideas which can be viewed here.

Students presented a range of ideas from their areas of research including targeted public health campaigns, use of alcohol mimicking substances, using digital devices to measure blood alcohol, restricting alcohol marketing and developing an app for young people with a wide range of functions and information to reduce alcohol harm.

Student Helena shared with us her experience of the project and why she was interested in finding out more about AFS’s challenge question.

“I chose the AFS challenge question that focuses on alcohol as having grown up in Scotland where underage drinking, often as young as 14, was normalised I saw first-hand how a negative drinking culture is formed.  Now as a student I can see the harm alcohol causes within my peer group and the types of situations that encourage young adults to regularly drink more than the recommended maximum of units per week. I was therefore curious to find out more specific details about these situations and what was currently being done to help reduce the harm caused by alcohol in all age groups.

"Although I already knew Scotland had a drinking problem, I was shocked to learn that as many as 1 in 4 people in Scotland drink at a hazardous or harmful level i.e. more than 14 units per week.  It was interesting to learn the statistics of alcohol related crime, particularly the cost of tackling alcohol related crime and that crime rates are 8 times higher in areas with the most alcohol outlets.

"My group decided to explore and research three main areas: Purchasing alcohol underage or selling to underage people, alcohol advertising and finally, ways to improve the safety of drinkers and help them monitor their drinking. We researched each of these problems and proposed a change/solution for each. These were, punishments for purchasing/selling alcohol to minors, enforcing the “Three A’s” (affordability, attractiveness, and availability) and exploring technological advancements such as alcohol blood concentration detection.

"From participating in this AFS project, in the future I would like to see Scotland further regulate alcohol marketing. This would be in an attempt to make alcohol less appealing to young adults and teenagers through having fewer and more controlled alcohol adverts, less stands selling alcohol at public events and the harms and risks of alcohol consumption being more widely known.”

Al Lawley-Powell, Students as Change Agents Project Manager, said: “As an idea lab, the aim of Students as Change Agents is not just to provide amazing development opportunities for students, but to contribute to positive social change and instil this as a long-term value of all participants and link them up to real-world challenges.

“We are grateful to Alcohol Focus Scotland for helping us make that happen and to offer students the opportunity to have a lasting impact on the communities they grew up in. I hope the contributions of students from the University of Edinburgh can offer some fresh insight and thinking on an incredibly important issue.”


September 2021