This article contributes to the understanding of how students neutralise potential feelings of guilt and stigmatisation regarding their alcohol consumption.
We report findings from two qualitative studies with students at a UK university. The aim of the research was to uncover the range and ways in which neutralisation and counter-neutralisation techniques are used by drinkers and abstainers/near-abstainers in managing their alcohol position.
Study 1 consisted of five focus groups with heavy drinkers and Study 2 comprised nine one-to-one interviews with abstainers and near-abstainers.
Analysis highlights the importance of alcohol consumption in students’ lifestyles, but also the potential identity conflicts experienced by all drinkers, regardless of the amount consumed.
Heavy drinkers primarily employ neutralisation techniques as a means to rationalise the negative impacts of their actions, whereas abstainers and near-abstainers mainly use counter-neutralisation techniques as a means to reinforce their commitment to lifestyles which run counter to mainstream student life expectations.
However, regardless of the amount of alcohol consumed, all participants employed neutralising and counter-neutralising arguments in some social situations.
The article discusses the usefulness of neutralisation theory to account for the adoption of risky health behaviours, such as excessive alcohol consumption, and the potential implications for public health interventions.
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