Beyond ‘Drinking Occasions’: Examining Complex Changes in Drinking Practices During COVID-19
‘Drinking [alcohol use] occasions’ are commonly used to capture quantities of alcohol consumed. Yet this standardized terminology brings with it numerous assumptions and epistemological limitations. This study suggests that social changes brought on by COVID-19 restrictions have influenced routines, patterns of time use and drinking practices, highlighting the need to re-examine how we conceptualize alcohol use and ‘alcohol use occasions’ in alcohol research.
This analysis draws on data gathered from 59 qualitative interviews conducted during the second half of 2020 with Australian alcohol users aged 18 and over. The interviews explored how COVID-19 restrictions impacted daily practices and alcohol consumption patterns.
Participants spoke about their work, study and social routines changing, which influenced the times, timing and contexts of their alcohol use practices. The study separated these shifts into four overarching themes: shifting of structures shaping alcohol use; the permeability of alcohol use boundaries; the extension of alcohol use occasions; and new contexts for alcohol use.
Discussion and Conclusion
COVID-19 restrictions have led to shifts in the temporal boundaries and contexts that would otherwise shape people’s alcohol use, meaning alcohol use practices may be less bound by structures, norms, settings and rituals. The alcohol use occasions concept, although a simple tool for measuring how much people consume alcohol has not been able to capture these complex developments. This is a timely consideration given that COVID-19 may have enduring effects on people’s lifestyles, work and alcohol use practices. It may be useful to examine alcohol use as practice, rather than just an occasion, in order to better contextualize epidemiological studies going forward.