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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Extreme drinking among young adults in Kelowna and Vancouver : an ethnographic inquiry Sharkey, Allison K.


This study presents an in-depth qualitative understanding of extreme drinking among young adults age 19-26 in Vancouver and Kelowna, BC and offers recommendations for harm prevention and reduction strategies. Extreme drinking is defined as the research participant’s intentional consumption of alcohol with the explicit intent to achieve a subjective state of intense drunkenness or intoxication. I investigate young adults’ conceptualizations of extreme drinking behaviours, their motivations for such behaviours and the cultural, economic, structural and political factors that influence the occurrence of extreme drinking. I identify issues harm prevention and reduction strategies should focus on. Methods include semi-structured interviews with self-identified current and former extreme drinkers and structured observations at licensed establishments in each city. I draw on personal experience, providing a component of autoethnography in my analysis. Among extreme drinkers, the perceived positive outcomes of extreme drinking tend to outweigh the perceived negative ones. Alcohol functions as social lubricant, facilitator of sexual encounters and as a means of entertainment. Several study participants report using alcohol to decrease feelings of stress, anxiety or depression. Life problems related to securing financially and emotionally rewarding careers and actual or perceived barriers to mental health care are cited as motivations for extreme drinking. Alcohol consumption provides young adults a means of catharsis and release from negative emotions related to life problems. Extreme drinkers use black humour to cope with negative drinking outcomes and to justify continued extreme drinking. Recommendations for harm reduction include implementing educational campaigns detailing particular health risks associated with extreme drinking and means for offsetting risks, encouraging authority figures to promote the idea that it is safe and acceptable to seek medical attention when intoxicated, enforcing laws regulating the operations of drinking establishments, increasing traffic stops in suburban areas, implementing alcohol counseling hotlines and instituting cellphone charging areas or free public phones in drinking establishments. Recommendations for harm prevention include encouraging older adults to model moderate drinking behaviours, providing safe opportunities for young people to experiment with alcohol and fostering awareness of issues associated with youth sexuality, mental health, social skills development and transitioning from childhood to adulthood.

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