Making Sense of ‘‘Drink Responsibly’’ Messages: Explorations of the Understanding and Interpretations of Young Nigerians Who Use Alcohol
Nigeria ranks first for per capita consumption and heavy episodic alcohol use prevalence in Africa. Yet, there are no alcohol policies, standard alcohol measurements, or low-risk alcohol use guidelines (LRDG) in the country.
This study explored the awareness and understanding/interpretations of the alcohol industry-sponsored ‘responsible drinking message’ (RDM) among Nigerian youth. Data were elicited through 53 semi-structured interviews and 3 focus groups (N=26), and the study also observed product labels and industry websites.
Undergraduate participants were aware of ‘‘drink responsibly’’ (one of the RDMs), but some out-of-school participants with low-level education did not know it existed. This is likely because the “drink responsibly” message is promoted in the English language without any indigenous language alternatives. It is embedded in conventional advertisements that glamorize alcohol use without stand-alone public health messages encouraging low-risk alcohol use behaviors. Participants shared divergent but subjective interpretations of “drink responsibly”, but none associated it with abstinence. Some associated “drink responsibly” with the ability to “hold one’s drink“, stating that it means: “drinks very well, but don’t get drunk“, and “drink to your satisfaction, but don’t misbehave“. Other interpretations included: “know your limit” and “drink in moderation“. “Drink responsibly” was also understood to mean “drink in excess but respect yourself“. Alcohol companies in Nigeria redirect consumers to Drinkaware’s and DrinkIQ’s websites in the UK but use inconspicuous fonts to inscribe “drink responsibly” on product labels.
By design, alcohol companies frame RDMs to promote alcohol use and individual responsibility. Thus, it engenders subjective interpretations, including high-risk alcohol use behaviors. Policymakers should jettison self-regulation, implement alcohol policies, and introduce LRDG to encourage low-risk alcohol use. Stand-alone public health interventions that promote abstinence or low-risk alcohol use behaviors should be developed, while Drinkaware’s and DrinkIQ’s websites should be avoided. To be effective, all RDMs should include the indigenous language versions.