Legitimizing and Negotiating Abstinence: Young Adults’ Narratives about Practicing Situational and Long Term Abstinence in Denmark
This study explores how Danish youth legitimize and negotiate abstaining from consuming alcohol. While most literature on abstinence focuses either on abstainers or non-users, this study focuses on young peoples’ reasons for abstaining either for shorter or longer periods of time.
The article draws on narrative data from in-depth qualitative interviews with 140 young Danes between 18 and 25 years of age, all of whom had used alcohol in the past three months before the interview. In the analyses researchers identify different ways in which young Danes explain, justify and legitimize shorter or longer periods of abstinence, while still participating in friendship groups where consuming alcohol is a central part of being together.
The study employs two concepts that identify the meaning when talking about abstaining from consuming alcohol. The first is ‘situational abstinence’ which covers abstaining from consuming alcohol in certain situations and for particular reasons while nevertheless consuming in other situations. The second concept, ‘long term abstinence’, covers taking a break from consuming alcohol for longer periods of time.
The study thus focused on young people, who participate in the Danish youth alcohol use cultures, but choose to abstain from consuming alcohol in certain situations and for a certain period of time.
One important finding to emerge from the analysis is that while other studies show some of the same reasons for not consuming alcohol, this study shows that timing, negotiation and legitimization also play important roles. Furthermore, these roles are modified by gender.
Friendship and peer groups are central relationships for young people and are important arenas for feelings of comfort, a sense of belonging and a source of identity. If policy and/or prevention initiatives focus solely on abstaining as an individual choice or an individual concern, as for example in the ‘just say no’ campaigns, then these initiatives fail to emphasize important aspects of young people’s lives.