Re-framing 'binge drinking' as calculated hedonism: empirical evidence from the UK

Author(s): Szmigin I, Griffin C, Mistral W, Bengry-Howell A, Weale L, et al.


Background: Recent debates on 'binge drinking' in the UK have represented the activities of young drinkers in urban areas as a particular source of concern, as constituting a threat to law and order, a drain on public health and welfare services and as a source of risk to their own future health and well being. The discourse of moral panic around young people's 'binge drinking' has pervaded popular media, public policy and academic research, often differentiating the excesses of 'binge drinking' from 'normal' patterns of alcohol consumption, although in practice definitions of 'binge drinking' vary considerably. However, recent research in this area has drawn on the notion of 'calculated hedonism' to refer to a way of 'managing' alcohol consumption that might be viewed as excessive.

Methods: The paper presents a critical analysis of contemporary discourses around 'binge drinking' in the British context, highlighting contradictory messages about responsibility and self control in relation to the recent liberalisation of licensing laws and the extensive marketing of alcohol to young people. The paper analyses marketing communications which present drinking as a crucial element in 'having fun', and as an important aspect of young people's social lives. The empirical study involves analysis of focus group discussions and individual interviews with young people aged 18-25 in three areas of Britain: a major city in the West Midlands, a seaside town in the South-West of England and a small market town also in the South-West.

Results: The initial findings present the varied forms and meanings that socialising and drinking took in these young people's social lives. In particular the results illustrate the ways in which drinking is constituted and managed as a potential source of pleasure.

Conclusion: The paper concludes that the term 'calculated hedonism' better describes the behaviour of the young people in this study and in particular the way they manage their pleasure around alcohol, than the emotive term 'binge drinking'.

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