A night out isn’t only about alcohol

28 May 2021

Drinking alcohol is a common practice on a night out for young adults. Public health researchers are often concerned about the ‘harms’ associated with drinking on a night out and advocate for measures to reduce harms, such as restricting the availability of alcohol.

young people drinking

While the emphasis on alcohol and (reducing) harms is useful, it may also overlook more complex experiences of drinking on a night out.

Researchers from Turning Point, the Monash Addiction Research Centre and the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research, at La Trobe University, reviewed and analysed the findings of Australian qualitative research on young adults’ experiences of drinking on a night out.

As discussed in an article published in the journal Critical Public Health, they illustrate that alcohol never acts alone on a night out. Instead, they identified various elements that come together to shape young adults’ experiences of drinking in different ways.

Socio-cultural and gendered norms – formal or informal rules or expectations – about drinking and related practices are important, as are the settings and places that people encounter on a night out. Similarly, peers and social elements can be influential not only in encouraging drinking or harms, but also in curtailing risk, providing care and in ensuring enjoyable experiences. Indeed, social connection and pleasure were commonly identified as desirable effects that young adults sought on a night out.

“If alcohol never acts alone, then it makes little sense to focus on, or respond to, alcohol alone” said lead researcher, Dr Michael Savic.

To open new ways of engaging with drinking on a night out (in its complexity), public health researchers might benefit from paying closer attention to the bundles of diverse elements at work in young adults drinking and the effects that emerge from these.

Public health efforts that focus on encouraging bundles of elements that produce care, social connection and enjoyable experiences on a night out may be more impactful than addressing individual elements or focusing on individuals or alcohol in isolation. Reiterating themes discussed in the Monash Addiction Research Centre webinar on culture change, Dr Michael Savic suggests that:

“Foregrounding young adults voices and diverse experiences and acknowledging pleasures as well as harms in alcohol-related public health efforts might enable these efforts to resonate with, and be taken up more readily by, young adults.”