Influence of sociocultural drinking norms

alcohol and society

Heavy drinkers will tend to overestimate the alcohol consumption of more moderate drinkers. This inclines them to consider their own norm quite normal. This was confirmed in a study by Cameron T. Wild from the University of Alberta, Canada.

The researcher divided a representative sample of male and female inhabitants of Ontario with drinking habits into three groups: regular heavy drinkers, occasional heavy drinkers and moderate drinkers. The first group was made up of persons claiming to drink at least five drinks once per week over the past 12 months; the second group drank five or more drinks at least once in the past 12 months and not more than three times per month, while the third group was made up of moderate drinkers who had never drank more than five or more drinks in the past 12 months.

The heaviest drinkers invariably believed that their colleagues and inhabitants of Ontario generally drank roughly the same amount of alcohol as themselves.

The researchers further investigated how much alcohol “social drinkers” and “problem drinkers” drink in the three different social circumstances: only in a bar; at a party or social occasion; in the evening, at home with the family.

Here again, heavy drinkers – compared with the other social groups – overestimate the amount of alcohol used by social and problem drinkers, and in the different social circumstances. They underestimated the importance of the various psychosocial criteria, such as solitary drinking, weekly inebriation, total drink consumption per occasion, family background of drink-related problems and furtive drinking.

The author suggests that serious habitual drinkers tend to adjust their idea of other people’s drinking habits so as to be able to regard their own drinking habits as normal rather than abnormal. It would be helpful to combat these prejudiced sociocultural expectations and convictions in order to bring the drink problem under more control.

Source: The Quarterly Review of Alcohol Research 2003; Volume II, No. I


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