Middle class wine drinkers 'think they know better than health experts'
Middle class professionals who drink at home are the biggest problem drinkers because they think they know better than health experts, new research claims.
The study found widespread evidence that white collar workers consider alcohol - especially wine - an everyday reward for chores such as cooking dinner or putting their children to bed, as well as to combat the stress of office life.
There was also a common perception among the group that they could ignore health warnings and that regularly drinking at home is safe and sensible, even if their intake exceeded recommended guidelines.
The researchers claim the study shows the need for an overhaul of government messages about safe drinking, which currently focus more on the impact of binge drinking and anti-social behaviour.
In fact, the study - in the journal BMC - found that these public health warnings “actively reinforced” the view among the middle classes “that their own drinking was problem-free”, because the campaigns tended to depict problems associated with young people drinking.
The research, by the universities of Newcastle and Sunderland, involved a study among 49 clerical and managerial staff from a range of workplaces, including a council, a tax office and a chemical storage company.
The workers, aged from 21 to 55 and split almost evenly between men and women, were questioned on their drinking habits, as well as their attitude to alcohol and to public health messages on the subject.
Those interviewed believed that “problem drinkers” did not include stay-at-home evening drinkers, but referred to young people binge drinking in city centres, or people with alcohol dependency.
One of those who took part, said drinking alcohol after their children had gone to bed “makes me feel like an adult again”.
Dr Lyn Brierley-Jones, who carried out the research, said: “Of those that stayed in to drink, almost all drank wine and almost all drank it every day. Wine is part of their life, a marker between adult time and time with their children, or after work. It is very much about their identity and being successful and sophisticated in the way they drink.
“There has been this perception that binge drinking is worse than regular drinking, but that is not the case. It is just that one is visible, while regular drinking is hidden and is not stigmatised in the same way. Home drinkers justify their drinking and even perceive it to be a good thing and beneficial. It has all these positive connotations and that adds to the public health problem.
“These home drinkers don’t see their drinking pattern as problematic, but evidence suggests that such regular drinking will lead to significant health problems later in life, and a major health burden for the NHS.”
The report says that, in future, public health messages should focus on a “typical person” and the long term damage caused by alcohol, rather than just on the crime or disorder associated with binge drinking.