The term “responsible drinking” pervades our society. On bottles, at the end of commercials advertising alcohol, on banners for events sponsored by alcohol companies – the phrase “Drink Responsibly” is everywhere. But have we stopped to ask what that really means?
I myself didn’t think about it until we received feedback on our policy draft and were asked to clarify what we meant by this phrase. “Responsible drinking” was something we had included in the document a few times, almost unconsciously.
We could think about responsible drinking as limiting quantity. In Grenada, the average per capita consumption of pure alcohol is more than 10 liters per year. For context, average consumption in the United States is approximately 1 liter less. In terms of quantity, should we say, responsible drinking means drinking less than the average?
We could also think about responsible drinking as specifying the drinking age. In Grenada, you must be sixteen years old to purchase uncorked or unsealed vessels. However, no current law exists for the purchase of corked vessels or consumption of alcohol. Technically, a 2-year-old could go to a local shop and purchase an unopened beer. In terms of age, should we say, responsible drinking means requiring the legal age of purchase and consumption to be increased?
To drink responsibly depends entirely on the context you find yourself. Alcohol consumption in Grenada is unique because of its close ties with social norms. Seeking to change consumption behaviors isn’t so easy as creating laws that express “no alcohol in X locations” and “no drinking under X years of age.” Enforcement of any recommended policy will face difficulty in its implementation because alcohol is part of the culture.
I’ve learned to be mindful of vague phrases that we gloss over everyday. In developing public health recommendations, such phrases can convey entirely different meanings, or have no meaning at all. As with all public health work, we must remember: context, context, context.
And please, drink responsibly.