Conceptualising Alcohol Consumption in Relation to Long-Term Health Conditions: Exploring Risk in Interviewee Accounts of Drinking and Taking Medications
Alcohol use is a major contributor to the burden of disease, including long-term non-communicable diseases. Alcohol can also interact with and counter the effects of medications. This study addresses how people with long term conditions, who take multiple medications, experience and understand their alcohol use. The study objective is to explore how people conceptualise the risks posed to their own health from their concurrent alcohol and medicines use.
Methods and findings
Semi-structured interviews were conducted with a sample of 24 people in the North of England taking medication for long term conditions who used alcohol twice a week or more often. Transcripts were analysed using a modified framework method with a constructionist thematic analysis. Alcohol was consumed recreationally and to aid with symptoms of sleeplessness, stress and pain. Interviewees were concerned about the felt effects of concurrent alcohol and medicines use and sought ways to minimise the negative effects. Interviewees associated their own alcohol use with short-term reward, pleasure and relief. Risky alcohol use was located elsewhere, in the alcohol use of others. People made experiential, embodied sense of health harms and did not seem aware of, or convinced by, (or in some cases appeared resigned to) future harms to their own health from alcohol use. The study has limitations common to exploratory qualitative studies.
Health risk communication should be better informed about how people with long-term health conditions perceive health outcomes over time, and how they adopt experience-based safety strategies in contexts in which alcohol consumption is heavily promoted and weakly regulated, whilst medicines adherence is expected. Supporting people to make active and informed connections between medicines, alcohol and potential personal health harms requires more than a one-way style of risk communication if it is to be perceived as opening up rather than restricting choice.