"If you only have money for two drinks you might as well have nothing at all" : young people talk about drinking and drug use : a thesis presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Psychology at Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand

Thumbnail Image
Open Access Location
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Massey University
The Author
Psychoactive consumption is on the rise. In particular young people’s heavy sessional or ‘binge’ drinking has been highlighted in the media because of the burden it places upon public health resources and the risks it poses to health and social order. Youth intoxication has therefore become a prominent issue for policy makers, health promoters and researchers. Previous research suggests excessive drinking amongst young people can be understood in terms of the contemporary commodification of leisure which contributes to a culture of intoxication and facilitates the pursuit of calculated hedonism. The current study investigated the discourses surrounding the intoxication practices of 18 – 24 year olds. Twenty-one male and female participants took part in four friendship group discussions in Auckland, New Zealand. Their talk was subsequently analysed to gain access to young people’s views on drinking and other drug use in the context of socialising. The data was subjected to a Foucauldian discourse analysis and three discourses were identified in the texts: self-regulation, psychosocial development and pleasure. Together, these constituted a web of meaning which constructed drinking and drug use as a constrained, socially appropriate and culturally embedded practice motivated by enjoyment and social enhancement. Participants deliberately pursued states of intoxication, maintaining specific boundaries of appropriateness, means, frequency and degree of inebriation while simultaneously taking measures to mitigate perceived risks. Widespread conceptions of young adults’ heavy sessional consumption as reckless or out of control did not correspond to the young people’s perceptions of themselves as responsible, risk averse, social drinkers. Participants consistently resisted the positioning afforded them by the public discourse of censure surrounding youth intoxication and in doing so located their behaviour as age-appropriate and shaped by wider societal norms. Occasional excesses were constructed as a necessary and beneficial constituent of the maturation process. Results highlight the degree to which the voices of relevant consumer groups have been marginalised in the policy development process and the credibility gap between young people’s experiences and the health promotion messages directed at them. Findings problematise the notion that education about the risks of drinking and drug use will cause young people to moderate their behaviour out of a desire to avoid them. It is suggested that current focus on youth excess unduly attributes blame at the expense of recognising the more pervasive changes required to modify population-wide detrimental drinking cultures.
Binge drinking, Alcohol use, Drug use, Alcohol consumption, Attitudes to alcohol consumption, Young people, Young adults