Benefits of social non-drinking identified by British unive

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Benefits of social non-drinking identified by British university students: a mixed methods study

Dominic Conroy, Postdoctoral researcher, Birkbeck University

Alcohol Research UK Early Career Symposium 4


April 2017



Young people in the UK engage in relatively high risk alcohol consumption

40% increase in #of 16-24 year


who drink no alcohol at all [Office for National Statistics, 2015].

Challenges but also positives/benefits of non-drinking including more positive experience of self + enhanced feelings of choice (Conroy & de


, 2015), and possible personal well-being benefits (reduced anxiety) of not drinking (O’Hara et al., 2014).

Study aims:

Identify range of benefits of

social non-drinking

among young people

Explore whether/how identified benefits were associated with recent drinking history and psychological correlates of harmful drinking.


Method & sample

Mixed methods research design.

Secondary data analysis of 18-25 year student responses to mental imagery intervention designed to promote moderate drinking

Students were then asked to think about personally relevant short or longer-term benefits of social non-drinking and to record these as free-text responses.

Almost half of participants (

N =

237, 46.4%) had engaged in

social non-drinking

on one or more social occasions in the previous week.


Phase 1 – Template analysis

Free-text responses from 511 individuals, content suitable for qualitative analysis in 75 responses (14.6% overall dataset).

49 ♀ and 26 ♂ participants (



= 20y,




week= 18.1 units).

Template analysis = flexible analytic framework [King, 2004].

Four superordinate themes-

Improved physical and psychological health

Feeling more positive about who you are

Stronger friendships and peer relationships

Enjoying a more stable and prosperous life


Stronger friendships and peer relationships (n = 245)



N =


Higher quality social bonds and commitments




Would have a clearer experience during the social occasion




Would be able to take a role looking after drinking friends




Would experience higher quality in-occasion social interaction




Would gain a more favourable view of who you are among peers and family




Would be able to enjoy time out socializing more




Would experience higher quality social interaction beyond the occasion




Would avoid negative social effects of hangovers



Clearer sense of boundaries between self and others and within group dynamic




Would evade drink-related social embarrassment or judgement from other people




Would feel good about not succumbing to peer pressure to drink alcohol




Would help reduce group expectations of heavy drinking during the social occasion



Able to explore wider range of social opportunities




Would be able to enjoy other social activities or hobbies (e.g. watching films)




Would be able to develop new friendships (incl. with non- /light-drinkers)



New perspective on alcohol consumption in social life




Would help me feel less dependent on alcohol for socializing




Would gain objective perspective on how alcohol influences social interactions




Would be able to enjoy drinking time when it happened more



Two illustrations

Able to explore wider range of social opportunities

Quote 10: Having in-depth, sober, conversations with a lot of


friends who


only ever tend to see now when going for a night out, being sober may be better in these types of situations to make the most of the time that I do see them (F19)

New perspective on alcohol consumption in social life

Quote 14: Reminding myself that drinking too regularly cheapens more special nights out or events where you want to drink (M3)


Phase 2 – Quantitative analysis

361 female, 150 male students aged 18-25 years

Measures of

Recent drinking history

Intention to drink within government recommended levels

Descriptive norms/injunctive norms

Drink refusal self-efficacy

Among men only, more health-adherent drinking intention among individuals endorsing stronger friendships as a benefit of social non-drinking (β = 0.21, p = .006).


Discussion points

Policy link- taking dry days

Building young people’s ability to not drink in situation congruent with current medical recommendations on the importance of taking

regular alcohol-free days

as part of a more moderate approach to alcohol consumption (Department of Health, 2016).

Gain-framed message application?

personalized or generic ‘gains’ of social non-drinking (e.g., increased agency, higher quality social relationships) may encourage reduced alcohol consumption among university students. ?gains of social non-drinking might be easier to imagine/appeal than gains of moderate drinking.


Contact details

Abstract accepted for special issue of Drug & Alcohol Review on declining youth drinking

Dominic Conroy



Based in North London


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