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AAM_213719_MacLean,S_2018.pdf (261.28 kB)

‘You’re repulsive’: Limits to acceptable drunken comportment for young adults

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journal contribution
posted on 2021-12-20, 06:27 authored by Sarah MacLeanSarah MacLean, Amy PennayAmy Pennay, Robin RoomRobin Room
Background Researchers have described a ‘culture of intoxication’ among young people. Yet drunkenness remains a socially risky practice with potential to evoke emotions of irritation and even disgust. We consider intoxicated practices that young adults in Melbourne, Australia, described as distasteful, to identify contemporary cultural forces that constrain intoxication and limit how it is enacted. Method Interviews were conducted with 60 participants in Melbourne, Australia, each with recent drinking experience. Participants were asked to provide accounts of moments when they regarded their own or others’ drunken comportment as unsociable or unpleasant. Transcripts were analysed to identify recurrent themes. Results Despite amusement when recounting drunken antics, almost everyone in the study identified some discomfort at their own or other's drunkenness. We describe four interacting domains where lines delineating acceptable comportment appear be drawn. The first concerns intoxicated practices. Unpleasant drunken comportment often entailed a sense that the drunk person had disturbed others through an overflow of the self − extruding intimacy, sexuality, violence or bodily fluids. The second domain was gendering, with women vulnerable to being regarded as sexually inappropriate, and men as threatening. Third, the settings where intoxicated behaviour occurred influenced whether intoxicated people risked censure. Finally, the relationships between the drunk person and others, including their respective social positions and drinking patterns, shaped how they were perceived. Conclusion The capacity of alcohol to render people more open to the world is both sought and reviled. It is important to recognise that there remain limits on acceptable drunken comportment, although these are complex and contingent. These limits are enforced via people's affective responses to drunkenness. This is form of alcohol harm reduction that occurs outside of public health intervention. Thus, cultures that constrain drinking should be supported wherever it is possible to do so without reinforcing stigmatising identities.


The authors report no conflict of interest. The Centre for Alcohol Policy Research receives core funding from the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education. The Australian Research Council [LP 100100017], VicHealth and the Victorian Department of Health funded this research and David Moore provided guidance in relation to the study. Amy Pennay is supported by a fellowship from the National Health and Medical Research Council [GNT1069907]. Mutsumi Karasaki and Christine Siokou conducted some of the research interviews. Christine's capacity to engage interview participants and encourage them to share stories of their lives was unparalleled and she is deeply missed.


Publication Date



International Journal of Drug Policy




7p. (p. 106-112)





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