Public health approaches have frequently conceptualised alcohol consumption as an individual behaviour resulting from rational choice. We argue that drinking alcohol needs to be understood as an embodied social practice embedded in gendered social relationships and environments. We draw on data from 14 focus groups with pre-existing groups of friends and work colleagues in which men and women in mid-life discussed their drinking behaviour. Analysis demonstrated that drinking alcohol marked a transitory time and space that altered both women's and men's subjective embodied experience of everyday gendered roles and responsibilities. The participants positioned themselves as experienced drinkers who, through accumulated knowledge of their own physical bodies, could achieve enjoyable bodily sensations by reaching a desired level of intoxication (being in the zone). These mid-life adults, particularly women, discussed knowing when they were approaching their limit and needed to stop drinking. Experiential and gendered embodied knowledge was more important in regulating consumption than health promotion advice. These findings foreground the relational and gendered nature of drinking and reinforce the need to critically interrogate the concept of alcohol consumption as a simple health behaviour. Broader theorising around notions of gendered embodiment may be helpful for more sophisticated conceptualisations of health practices.
- drinking behaviour