Our project

Investigation into the efficacy of text and graphic alcohol warning labels amongst students

Funded by the British Academy (2015 - 2017)

This research aims to assess the potential of alcohol warning labels to encourage responsible drinking by students in the UK.  The project will explore the types of messages that may be accepted by the target population, assess how a number of messages across different themes might affect students in changing their views, attitude and behaviour.  The research will seek to explore the potential efficacy of pictorial over text-based warnings. Our project utilises qualitative (focus groups) and quantitative (experiments) methods to try to understand how alcohol warning labels work in practice and what might be the “best” warning labels for engendering behaviour in-line with government daily or weekly safe drinking limits (these being 3/4 units for men and 2/3 units for women per day, or no more than 21/14 units per week for men/women).

Project phases:

Our project is built around two phases: 


The first phase uses focus groups to explore reactions to different warning labels in terms of content, design, message, use of visuals and seeks ideas from participants on warning labels that they think would/wouldn’t be effective.  Effectiveness is explored from different perspectives including: noticeability, believability, persuasiveness, potential defensive responses and behaviour change.

The second phase will test (after a small pilot study) a number of warning label messages that will be informed by phase 1 and prior research.  Three experiments will be used to assess the warning label designs within and between participants, culminating in a wine pouring experiment which seeks to test the most successful warnings in a more realistic setting.


Phase 1 is currently underway with phase 2 taking place in 2016.

Our project hopes to feed into the policy debate surrounding whether or not alcohol warning labels (particularly in a pictorial format) should be introduced. Further the project aims to identify which warning messages would be most effective in reducing excessive alcohol consumption amongst young people in the UK.

Is UK student drinking really a problem?


Student drinking has been studied extensive in the USA but studies in Europe are less common (Kuntsche et al., 2004; Wicki et al., 2010). 


Findings suggest that:


•52/43% of males/females students in the UK report drinking above weekly government guidelines of 21/14 units per week for men/women (Gill, 2002).


•binge drinking is more prevalent among UK students than UK non-student peers as well as students in other countries (Gill, 2002).

•young people have limited knowledge of the risks associated with binge drinking (Kuntsche et al., 2004).


•alcohol consumption is more likely to make students vulnerable to being a victim of crime (Newbury-Birch et al., 2009).


•alcohol consumption is associated with missing classes (Newbury-Birch et al., 2009)


•students overestimate their fellow students’ alcohol consumption (Wicki et al., 2010).


Gill, J.S. (2002), “Reported levels of alcohol consumption and binge drinking within the UK undergraduate student population over the last 25 yearS,” Alcohol and Alcoholism, 37, 109-20.

 Kuntsche, E., Rehm, J., Gmel, G. (2004), “Characteristics of binge drinkers in Europe,” Social Science & Medicine, 59, 113–27.

 Wicki, M., Kuntsche, E., Gmel, G. (2010), “Drinking at European universities? A review of students' alcohol use,” Addictive Behaviors, 35, 913–24.