Descriptors and accounts of alcohol consumption: methodological issues piloted with female undergraduate drinkers in Scotland
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Excessive drinking among young women continues to attract adverse media attention and is the target of UK government-led initiatives. Reliable research on alcohol consumption is needed to inform/evaluate public health interventions. This pilot study, investigating descriptors of alcohol drinking in female Scottish undergraduate students, comprised: (i) self-completed questionnaire survey (n=95); (ii) interview plus test pouring of a ‘drink’ (n=19). Self-reports by 70% of drinkers (n=90) indicated alcohol consumption for the ‘week past’ meriting classification as ‘binge’ drinking, and 83% of this group reported drinking in this fashion at least fortnightly. However, binge-drinking may be under-estimated, since poured drinks were measured to be on average double the alcohol content for a standard drink, drinking often occurred outwith licensed premises, and respondents preferred to quantify consumption in (fractions of) bottles, rather than glasses. Qualitative analysis showed that interviewees oriented to drinking as an accountable practice but were unaware of the clinical definition of binge drinking. They defined it in terms of the effect of alcohol consumed on individual behaviour, not in absolute quantities. Given the unreliability of self-reported consumption, future health surveys and initiatives should consider ‘quantifying’ alcohol in a way more meaningful to the population of interest, in terms of effect.