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Constructing and negotiating boundaries of morally acceptable alcohol use: A discursive psychology of justifying alcohol consumption

Melia, Claire; Kent, Alexandra; Meredith, Joanne; Lamont, Alexandra


Claire Melia

Joanne Meredith


UK society has a complex relationship with alcohol; it is ever-present within social activities, yet alcohol problems are heavily stigmatised. As such, the nuance of acceptability is a key focus for understanding societal perceptions and understandings of alcohol. This research explored how the boundary between acceptable and problematic alcohol use was negotiated in justifying drinking behaviors. The paper draws upon data from two World Cafés and five focus groups conducted in the UK with 76 participants including 25 males and 51 females aged 18 to 82. Data was analysed using discursive psychology with a focus on how participants disclosed and accounted for alcohol consumption. The analysis highlighted two key discursive patterns: 1) Speakers created an interactionally-specific boundary of acceptable alcohol use. 2) Speakers built upon this boundary, justifying and portraying their own drinking as socially acceptable. The boundary of acceptable alcohol use was locally constructed and shifted between speakers and contexts. This locally occasioned boundary demonstrates the challenge of objective guidance - such as the UK Chief Medical Officer's unit guidelines - in relation to individualistic behaviors. Implications are discussed for how alcohol policy, health campaigns, and alcohol practitioners may consider this orientation to justifying drinking behaviors to make alcohol reduction efforts more effective.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jul 12, 2021
Online Publication Date Jul 20, 2021
Publication Date 2021-12
Publicly Available Date Jun 19, 2023
Journal Addictive Behaviors Reports
Publisher Elsevier
Pages 107057 - ?
Keywords Morality; Alcohol; Problematic alcohol use; Discursive; Justifications; Accounts
Publisher URL