Pointing out the advantages of staying sober to young people is more effective than traditional approaches warning of the risks of heavy drinking, according to a new UK study.

Students are more likely to reduce their overall drinking levels if they focus on the benefits of abstaining such as more money and better health, University of Sussex researcher Dr Dominic Conroy said.

They are also less likely to binge-drink if they think about ways not to drink, including being direct but polite when declining a drink or choosing to spend time with supportive friends.

The research, published in the British Journal of Health Psychology, found that completing a drinks diary was less effective in encouraging safer drinking behaviour than completing an exercise relating to non-drinking.

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"Our research contributes to existing health promotion advice, which seeks to encourage young people to consider taking 'dry days' yet does not always indicate the range of benefits nor suggest how non-drinking can be more successfully managed in social situations," Conroy said,

Dr Conroy studied 211 English university students aged 18 to 25, who completed one of four exercises over a month.

The exercises involved imagining positive outcomes of non-drinking during a social occasion; imagining strategies required to successfully not drink during a social occasion; imagining both positive outcomes and required strategies; or completing a drinks diary task.

He found students who imagined positive outcomes of non-drinking reduced their weekly alcohol consumption from 20 units to 14 units on average.

Students who imagined required strategies for non-drinking reduced the frequency of binge-drinking episodes from 1.05 episodes a week to 0.73 episodes a week on average.

"I think this shows that health campaigns need to be targeted and easy to fit into daily life but also help support people to accomplish changes in behaviour that might sometimes involve 'going against the grain', such as periodically not drinking even when in the company of other people who are drinking," Conmroy said.

- PAA