“Binge drinking? It’s good, it’s harmless fun”: a discourse analysis of accounts of female undergraduate drinking in Scotland
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Binge drinking in young people, particularly females and students, is a source of some concern to those engaged in health education. The concept is usually defined in terms of quantities of alcohol consumed within a relatively short space of time. Research suggests that reasons for drinking are varied, and are likely to be influenced by culture and context. This study aimed to explore issues important to female undergraduate students in Scotland. Semi-structured interviews were carried out with 19 participants who were asked to describe what they understand by the term ‘binge drinking’, why they drink and what might trigger excessive consumption. Discourse analysis was used to explore the possible ‘functions’ of what was said, as well as the content. Participants showed sensitivity to how others might interpret their responses. They described binge drinking in terms of its behavioural effects rather than quantities consumed. Crucially, they positioned themselves outside the categories of ‘serious’ or ‘anti-social’ drinkers. These findings have important implications for our understanding of factors influencing drinking behaviour in this group of people, which in turn impacts on the potential design of health-enhancing interventions. The study also demonstrates the usefulness of a discourse analytic approach to accounts of drinking behaviour.