Understanding Alcohol as an Element of ‘Care Practices’ in Adult White British Women’s Everyday Personal Relationships: A Qualitative Study
In the last thirty years there has been a rise in harmful alcohol use amongst White British women. Approaches to alcohol harm reduction typically position alcohol consumption as an individual behaviour, with an emphasis on people to make changes to and by themselves. Moving away from an individual approach, this paper works with a relational framework to develop understanding of non-dependent women’s alcohol consumption in the context of their everyday lives. It draws on Feminist Ethics of Care theory, to consider the importance of care in women’s lives and alcohol as an element of their ‘practices of care’ in different relationships.
The study adopted an interpretive approach and drew on feminist principles of practice. Qualitative one-to-one face-to-face interviews were undertaken with twenty-six White women living in the North East of England. Participants were aged between 24 and 67 years. Thematic analysis of the data was carried out.
Participants’ relationships came through the analysis as central to understanding the way alcohol did and not feature in care practices. In couple relationships alcohol consumption offered a way of doing ‘care’ together, yet when it was used too often it no longer became appropriate as a form of care. In non-family relationships alcohol enabled care giving and receiving, while disguising that care was being received. In relationships with mothers the use of alcohol was relatively absent in the care practices described. Participants’ relationship to alcohol as a form of care of self, particularly when consuming alcohol alone, was closely related to their roles and responsibilities to others.
Overall the data suggests that interventions targeting women’s alcohol consumption should start from a position that women are relational. Moreover that when care by others is lacking or unavailable, alcohol can increasingly be introduced into care practices, and the reproduction of these practices may be leading to an increase in heavy alcohol use. By seeing alcohol use in the context of wider familial and non-familial relationships, this work has important implications for future interventions.