Affordances of home drinking in accounts from light and heavy drinkers
- Home alcohol use is a distinct social practice, with specific affordances or effects.
- Alcohol use can smooth relationships and produce an affective sense of being at home.
- For some, being at home facilitates regular and heavy consumption.
- Effects of home as a place operate particularly intensely for heavier alcohol users.
- Understanding impacts of place on alcohol use supports public health responses.
Home alcohol use contributes substantially to health harms associated with alcohol consumption. Drawing on practice theory and new materialism, the researchers argue that alcohol use is a social practice that allows particular sets of effects, or affordances, when it takes place in a person’s home.
Qualitative interviews were conducted by telephone with 40 Australian adult home alcohol users, of whom 20 consumed alcohol at a level designated as low risk and 20 at a level which exposed them to a higher likelihood of harm.
The researchers’ analyses identified four substantive affordances of home alcohol use practice.
- The first two concern transformations of home life.
- Home alcohol use allowed both celebration and smoothing of dissatisfaction with domestic relationships.
- Through producing subtly different affective states at home compared to in other locations, alcohol use practice rendered domestic settings home-like: as places of comfort and respite.
- The second two affordances of home alcohol use concern how home as a place acts in the co-constitution of alcohol consumption patterns. This entailed
- routinising alcohol consumption alongside other home-based practices, and
- loosening constraints on intoxication.
Importantly for the argument made by the researchers, each of these four effects operated with greater intensity for participants who consumed alcohol at a heavier level than for those who consumed alcohol more moderately.
For example, heavy alcohol users expressed a greater imperative to alter relationships and affective states at home and emphasised how being at home produced opportunities for, and removed obstacles to, heavy alcohol use.
The researchers show that home alcohol use is patterned with other activities and entwined in domestic wellbeing and the emergence of home as a space of privacy, autonomy and relaxation for Australians in the study sample.
Understanding home alcohol use as deeply embedded in the constitution of contemporary western domestic life helps to explain heavy alcohol consumption in these settings. It also supports the need for targeted public health responses such as restrictions on home delivery of alcohol.