Centre for Alcohol and Drug Research

Maria Dich Herold

Legitimizing and negotiating abstinence: Young adults' narratives about practicing situational and long term abstinence in Denmark

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BACKGROUND: In this paper, we explore how Danish youth legitimize and negotiate abstaining from drinking alcohol. While most literature on abstinence focuses either on abstainers or non-drinkers, we focus on young peoples' reasons for abstaining either for shorter or longer periods of time.

METHODS: The article draws on narrative data from in-depth qualitative interviews with 140 young Danes between 18 and 25 years of age, all of whom had used alcohol in the past three months before the interview. In the analyses we identify different ways in which young Danes explain, justify and legitimize shorter or longer periods of abstinence, while still participating in friendship groups where consuming alcohol is a central part of being together.

RESULTS: We employ two concepts that identify what we mean when talking about abstaining from drinking alcohol. The first is 'situational abstinence' which covers abstaining from drinking alcohol in certain situations and for particular reasons while nevertheless consuming in other situations. The second concept, 'long term abstinence', covers taking a break from drinking for longer periods of time. We thus focus on young people, who participate in the Danish youth drinking cultures, but choose to abstain from drinking in certain situations and for a certain period of time. One important finding to emerge from our analysis is that while other studies show some of the same reasons for not drinking, our study shows that timing, negotiation and legitimization also play important roles. Furthermore, these roles are modified by gender.

CONCLUSION: Friendship and peer groups are central relationships for young people and are important arenas for feelings of comfort, a sense of belonging and a source of identity. If policy and/or prevention initiatives focus solely on abstaining as an individual choice or an individual concern, as for example in the 'just say no' campaigns, then these initiatives fail to emphasize important aspects of young people's lives.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102655
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020

    Research areas

  • Abstinence, Alcohol, Denmark, Friendship, Young adults

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