- CHOK Lorraine
- Barrense-Dias Yara
- BARRENSE-DIAS Yara
Non-consumption of alcohol: the adolescents’ point of view
The percentage of adolescents who do not drink alcohol seems to have increased in the Western world in the past years. In some contexts, as the norm among young people is to drink alcohol, young non-drinkers may be marginalized and/or stigmatized. Despite the publication of a few studies conducted in other countries on the reasons or experiences of young people who do not drink alcohol, there seems to be a gap in the literature about to what extent these reasons explain why adolescents drink less. Moreover, given that alcohol consumption is cultural, it is important to understand young people’s experiences and motivations to abstain from alcohol in a context such as Switzerland.
The objectives of this qualitative research are to explore how young people define the term ‘abstinence’; to explore their opinions on the Dry January challenge; to assess the reasons why some young people decide not to drink alcohol; to assess the advantages and disadvantages of non-consumption of alcohol; to understand how young non-drinkers live their choice and how they are perceived/treated by their peers; to identify strategies used by non-drinkers to avoid alcohol use while still socializing with their friends.
Between April and June 2022, we conducted 12 FG with young people aged between 14 and 20 years old for a total of 63 (36 females) participants. The average age of participants was 16.9 years [rank: 14-20 years], with a median of 16 years. Participants were separated by gender (female / male, no one from another gender category contacted us), age (14-15 / 16-17 / 18-20) and alcohol consumption (drinkers / non-drinkers). In order to extract the different themes and dimensions raised by the participants, we carried out a thematic content analysis, a method of extracting subjective interpretations and meanings using a process of classification and categorisation of the data.
Discussions began with a broad question about the term “abstinence” as applied to alcohol use in an adolescent population. In addition to not always understanding the term, participants overall found it to be an inappropriate term for youth not drinking. Sexual or religious connotations, for example, were discussed in this line. This term was more widely accepted when referring to an adult population, especially when someone decides to become abstinent as a result of an alcohol-related problem. Then participants talked about the reasons for non-drinking among youth: religion, legal ages, parents and family rules, bad experiences, fear of losing control (especially among females), distaste, religion, health consciousness. In terms of prevention, the Dry January campaign was not well known by the participants and many wondered what the aim of such a challenge was if no follow-up beyond the month of the challenge was offered. While not demonizing alcohol consumption, youth called for more normalization of non-drinking and inclusion of non-drinkers in prevention to support them and make other youth aware of their presence. Experiences in terms of social life were mixed among the non-drinkers participants. For some, not drinking did not impact social life, while others reported feeling excluded and out of the norm. Questions and comments about not drinking from young drinkers were reported as particularly annoying. Some participants shared some strategies for hiding their non-drinker status and going unnoticed at parties to avoid remarks. Finally, non-drinkers are often designated as the “lifesavers” during parties to deal with youth who drink. This status can sometimes put them under pressure and lead them to stop attending parties.
Based on these results, some recommendations can be made:
- To use the term non-drinker rather than abstainer
- To normalize non-consumption of alcohol, including within families
- To make other young people, but also adults, aware of the pressure and exclusion that can be felt by non-drinkers
- To make challenges like #DryJanuary more visible and improve communication around them, especially in terms of objectives and follow-up (after January 31, what will happen?) Find something similar but more targeted at young people;
- To raise awareness among young people about their perceptions of non-drinkers and alcohol-free parties as boring;
- To include non-drinkers in prevention, to reinforce their choice and/or as a way to feel support
- To raise awareness on young non-drinkers being often identified as the ones who will help others at a party and may feel too much pressure
- To open the discussion on alcohol use before legal ages