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  • Meet the Researcher Q&A: Dr Tony Barnett on social groups, alcohol and other drugs

    Bamboo [facilitator]
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    Meet the Researcher Q&A: Dr Tony Barnett on social groups, alcohol and other drugs

    Thu Feb 18, 2021 9:39 am

    Have you ever noticed that you feel a lot of pressure to drink excessively with some of your friends, but not others? Maybe your work mates are always ordering another round at the pub, while your old school friends linger on one drink all night. You might even have a circle of friends that only ever gets together to do active, healthy things, like walking, sports, or fun and rewarding hobbies. The people you hang out with can have a lot of influence on how you spend your time.

    In the first instalment of our new Meet the Researcher Q&A series, we look at the question: are alcohol and other drug concerns an issue within the individual, an issue within an individual’s social network, or a combination of both? Can people change their social network structure to change their use of alcohol and other drugs? Do people need to change their social circles to change their alcohol and drug use? If so, how?

    Dr Tony Barnett is our guest this week and will answer your questions by drawing on the latest research. Tony is a researcher in the Clinical and Social Research Team at Turning Point, Melbourne. He researches the social and cultural aspects of alcohol and other drugs.

    It would be great to hear your thoughts about social circles and their impact on alcohol and other drug use. If you have a thought or query throw it out there — there are no silly questions or ideas. Everyone is welcome to contribute!

    This thread will be open for 1 week until Thursday 25th Feb 2021 for your questions! Ask Tony anything! Tony will draw on current research and understandings of social supports and social capital. Take advantage of this simple, anonymous Q&A, just hit Post Reply below while signed in!

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    tacocat
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    Re: Meet the Researcher Q&A: Dr Tony Barnett on social groups, alcohol and other drugs

    Thu Feb 18, 2021 4:04 pm

    That's a really fascinating topic, and often something I've thought about whilst moving between different circles at social gatherings.

    I noticed that certain social groups, based on their particular profession had very different relationships with substances.
    For example, amongst corporate, white collar professions there seemed to be a lot of pressure to drink alcohol, and binge drink. Amongst health professionals it seemed to be less social, group-think pressure to drink or partake in other drugs. In musician circles there was often a lot of to consume other types of substances outside of alcohol.

    My question: is there any research about consuming substances amongst certain types of social groups? For example, perhaps social gatherings amongst mostly tradies are more likely to consume certain substances, and with a certain pattern, lets say, binge drink.
    My thinking is, if there is a pattern amongst certain groups, you could be more wary about how you might be influenced in your relationship with substances.
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    Stopppies
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    Re: Meet the Researcher Q&A: Dr Tony Barnett on social groups, alcohol and other drugs

    Fri Feb 19, 2021 1:13 pm

    Hi Tony, don't know if you can answer this but are we seeing a change in how we drink socially, are 20 and 30 year olds drinking differently now than 20 and 30 year olds were in say the '90s? Are we drinking less is that down to social circles?
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    Leonarda
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    Re: Meet the Researcher Q&A: Dr Tony Barnett on social groups, alcohol and other drugs

    Sat Feb 20, 2021 12:31 pm

    What is the impact of social circles on alcohol and other drug use :

    Hi Tony and everyone, I have asked this question with extended family who are 18-25 years old and most of them stated that peer pressure is not something that they are experiencing with drugs - even though there is some experimentation of party drugs the focus is more on drinking. If someone is not drinking and participating in drinking games and pre's then they have stated that then there is some pressure and 'you are the odd one out.'

    Has there been any change between now, in 2021 in comparison to the say, 5 or 10 years ago? Are people more educated around drug use including alcohol and able to make better choices?
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    HelpfulBee
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    Re: Meet the Researcher Q&A: Dr Tony Barnett on social groups, alcohol and other drugs

    Mon Feb 22, 2021 6:18 pm

    Hi Tony,

    Really looking forward to hearing more about your research in social circles and substance use.

    My question is specifically about young people. In my work, I'm noticing that substance use (particularly cannabis, hallucinogens, and ketamine) are becoming more normal in certain social groups for young people. Is this the case?

    What are some risk factors and protective factors that contribute to a young person deciding to try substances under the influence of their peer group?

    Can't wait to learn more!

    -HelpfulBee
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    Bamboo [facilitator]
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    Re: Meet the Researcher Q&A: Dr Tony Barnett on social groups, alcohol and other drugs

    Wed Feb 24, 2021 8:55 am

    We've got some great questions so far! :) Just a reminder that the Q&A will be open until tomorrow and closed thereafter. If you have anything you'd like to ask Dr Tony Barnet on social groups, alcohol and other drugs please do so by end of business tomorrow (5pm AEST) thank you!
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    Bamboo [facilitator]
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    Re: Meet the Researcher Q&A: Dr Tony Barnett on social groups, alcohol and other drugs

    Thu Feb 25, 2021 5:01 pm

    Thanks everyone this Q&A is now closed for questions. We will have Dr Tony Barnett's answers up end of next week :)
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    Bamboo [facilitator]
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    Re: Meet the Researcher Q&A: Dr Tony Barnett on social groups, alcohol and other drugs

    Thu Mar 04, 2021 3:51 pm

    Hi everyone, please find Dr Tony Barnett's answers to your questions on social groups, alcohol and other drugs below :)

    Questions in Blue
    Answers in Black

    Question 1 from @tacocat

    That's a really fascinating topic, and often something I've thought about whilst moving between different circles at social gatherings.

    I noticed that certain social groups, based on their particular profession had very different relationships with substances.
    For example, amongst corporate, white collar professions there seemed to be a lot of pressure to drink alcohol, and binge drink. Amongst health professionals it seemed to be less social, group-think pressure to drink or partake in other drugs. In musician circles there was often a lot of to consume other types of substances outside of alcohol.

    My question: is there any research about consuming substances amongst certain types of social groups? For example, perhaps social gatherings amongst mostly tradies are more likely to consume certain substances, and with a certain pattern, lets say, binge drink.
    My thinking is, if there is a pattern amongst certain groups, you could be more wary about how you might be influenced in your relationship with substances.


    Thanks for sharing your experiences and for the great question @tacocat !

    I guess at the outset, I would point out that much of the research over the past few decades on alcohol and other drug use (and dependence) has focussed on individuals. For example, the field of psychology has looked at why people who consume alcohol and other drugs might do so to try to cope with stress (a ‘stress-coping model’).

    What has received less attention, though, is exactly what you refer to: what about alcohol and other drug use cultures among different social groups? In order to address this question, there is some research currently underway at La Trobe and Monash University exploring ‘drinking cultures’ in certain groups. Interestingly enough, that research is focussing on a few professional groups: nurses, lawyers and hospitality workers. Previous research has indicated that significant proportions of these and other professions (e.g., tradespeople as you suggest) drink more than recommended. By understanding when and why, and the social practice of drinking among nurses and lawyers, new interventions may be designed to address the harms from alcohol, such as trying to change ‘social norms’ within these types of groups, or adjusting workplace cultures. These types of social/cultural interventions may complement other population wide public health interventions (e.g., pricing and regulation of alcohol) and interventions (e.g., counselling) focussed on individuals with alcohol concerns. If you’d like to find out more about these projects, you can explore them here: https://www.turningpoint.org.au/research/identify

    I hope that’s of interest!

    Question 2 from @Stopppies

    Hi Tony, don't know if you can answer this but are we seeing a change in how we drink socially, are 20 and 30 year olds drinking differently now than 20 and 30 year olds were in say the '90s? Are we drinking less is that down to social circles?

    Thanks @Stopppies for a very (topical) question!

    There’s a really strong evidence base emerging that indicates younger people, in general, are drinking less. For example, in Australia, recent household survey data has pointed to a decline in risky drinking occasions, and an increased age of starting alcohol use, among young people. That data is averaged over the whole population and should be interpreted with caution though, as for some groups of young people, alcohol use may not have followed those patterns.

    Public health researchers continue to try to understand why there appears to be a decrease in drinking among young people. There are a few theories researchers are working on, and they include the role of: (1) parents supplying young people less alcohol and monitoring alcohol use; (2) the effect of secondary supply laws where it is illegal for adults to supply children under 18 alcohol; and, (3) whether young people are spending their time differently, by for example, being on social media a lot more these days and engaging in drinking activities less. So, the third point there, social media, is definitely linked to social circles and there’s a lot of research going on at the moment trying to understand the relationship between social media, social circles and young people drinking less. The results should be interesting!

    Question 3 from @Leonarda

    What is the impact of social circles on alcohol and other drug use :

    Hi Tony and everyone, I have asked this question with extended family who are 18-25 years old and most of them stated that peer pressure is not something that they are experiencing with drugs - even though there is some experimentation of party drugs the focus is more on drinking. If someone is not drinking and participating in drinking games and pre's then they have stated that then there is some pressure and 'you are the odd one out.'

    Has there been any change between now, in 2021 in comparison to the say, 5 or 10 years ago? Are people more educated around drug use including alcohol and able to make better choices?


    Thanks for sharing those experiences and for those interesting questions @Leonarda!

    I guess the first thing to point out (and as I mentioned in my response to @Stopppies), is that there is good evidence indicating younger people, in general, are drinking less. Recent Australian household survey data has pointed to a decline in risky drinking occasions, and an increased age of starting alcohol use, among young people. That data is averaged over the whole population and should be interpreted with caution though. For some groups, and in different contexts, drinking more than recommended is no doubt, still common. An example of this might be, and as you refer to, “having pre’s” (pre-drinking) before a night out. Pre-drinking might be pleasurable and fun (and saves people money) within social groups, but having pre’s may confirm with social norms, which makes it difficult to ‘say no’ whilst experiencing peer pressure to confirm to group norms.

    You raise a good point: what is the role of education in reducing young people’s alcohol and other drug use, or enabling them to make better choices? It’s worth mentioning that whilst education is important, public health experts have often said that educating people about alcohol and other drugs simply isn’t enough, or has minimal effect as a ‘lever’ to create change. Take tobacco, for example, in the 70s and 80s the education campaigns didn’t create much change. Instead of interventions focused on individuals (e.g., like education), the biggest lever that is often credited with reducing tobacco smoking, is taxation. In a similar way, ‘minimum unit pricing’ on alcohol is discussed as vital in helping to reduce risky drinking practices.

    One other factor that is a ‘hot topic’ in research, is the idea that young people are increasingly focussed on health, and ‘healthism’ is part of youth culture. There is a growing theory that young people, for different reasons, are focussed on mental and physical wellbeing. Therefore, activities involving heavy drinking, may be taking a back seat, in favour of healthy activities like going to the gym, or eating good food. Hopefully there will be some more research soon that unpacks this theory further.

    I hope that is of interest and thanks again for the questions.


    Question 4 from @HelpfulBee

    Hi Tony,

    Really looking forward to hearing more about your research in social circles and substance use.

    My question is specifically about young people. In my work, I'm noticing that substance use (particularly cannabis, hallucinogens, and ketamine) are becoming more normal in certain social groups for young people. Is this the case?

    What are some risk factors and protective factors that contribute to a young person deciding to try substances under the influence of their peer group?

    Can't wait to learn more!

    Thanks for these really fascinating insights and questions @Helpfulbee!

    Even though decades of research has indicated that certain types of drug use (e.g., cannabis, party drug use) has become increasingly normalised, in general, recent Australian household survey data is indicating that young people are less likely to smoke, drink and use illicit drugs generally. It’s complex as to why that is, but factors that might underpin that change include: (1) policy change like minimum unit pricing pushing up alcohol prices; (2) changes in parental practices such as not introducing alcohol as much to adolescents; and (3) a general wave of ‘healthism’ where young people are engaging in healthy activities and more interested in mental health and wellbeing, in comparison to young people 20 years ago.

    Now, that survey data is an estimate of ‘average’ use over the whole population and should be interpreted with caution. As you observe, different sub-groups of young people at the ‘micro’ level, may indeed use different substances, in varying ways, and experience different level of harms. I’ve had a look at some specific drug types in response to your question, and found some different patterns. There is good evidence that, for all Australians including adults: (1) cannabis remains the most commonly used illicit drug; (2) the use of cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy, along with inhalants, hallucinogens, and ketamine, appears to have increased between 2016 and 2019 (based on the National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019).

    That brings me to your last question, if we accept there are groups of young people who may consume alcohol and other drugs more than their peers, what are the risk and protective factors that contribute to initiating substance use? At the level of the individual, one study as part of the ‘Young Minds Matter Study’, reported that the degree of parental supervision and monitoring young people receive, differences in managing stress, and/or a diagnosis of major depression, were associated with initiating substance use. At a social level, initiating substance use could be part of a wider cultural activity, such as going to a music festival with friends. I guess this raises the question, how as a society, should we manage this potential risk? Sometimes we see politicians take a ‘tough on drugs’ approach, which isn’t necessarily based on evidence. Drawing on a large body of evidence, many public health experts have argued that we increasingly should focus on harm reduction (like pill testing at festivals) in order to reduce the risk associated with substance use. It’s an interesting debate that continues to evolve in Australia!

    I hope that’s of interest and thanks again.
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