This is a useful podcast from Thinking Allowed which explores the role and meaning of both alcohol and drugs in human life with three academics – Professors James Mills, Fiona Measham and Chris Hackley.
This post just focusses on one aspect of the research (there are many more covered!) – The topic of why young people drink excessively, with some interesting findings based on semi-structured interviews with 18-25 year olds (roughly 5 mins in)
What this method yielded were the respondents own stories about their binging and events relayed included such things as falling asleep at the table in a pub, blacking out, vomiting, and getting into fights.
One thing that surprised the researchers was the enthusiasm and energy with which the respondents conveyed stories even though they weren’t necessarily pleasurable, and sometimes even dangerous.
Interepretation by the researchers was that the ‘binge drinking ritual’ had the following functions – Most of which are not actually necessarily about enjoying yourself.
- Firstly, drinking to excess transported the group of friends to a fantasy land of shared interest taking them away from the mundane tedium of daily life, providing an opportunity in which ordinary social norms could be transgressed more easily because of being drunk.
- Secondly, the drinking enabled individuals to forget themselves for a while. The researchers argued this is implicit in the way binge drinking is talked about in which phrases such as ‘getting wasted’ or ‘getting annihilated’ are commonly used.
- Thirdly there was quite often an element of risk present which necessitated looking out for eachother, which tested boundaries of friendship and facilitated group bonding .
This research also demonstrates the usefulness of the unstructured interview method to this particular topic – which is the only method that allows the researcher to observe things such as enthusiasm as the respondents tell their own stories. This wouldn’t be possible with more structured interviews or questionnaires, or even observations of the events. What you get with this method is the sense that the respondents are very happy to reflect on these drinking events. They have a long memory, long after the drinking has taken place.
All in all this is a useful counterweight to moral panic reporting about increases in binge drinking amongst youth today, which suggests that rather than being an end in itself, much binge drinking today is merely part of youth culture with broader and temporary life-stage specific functions.