‘Maturing out’ as dilemmatic: transitions towards relatively light drinking practices among UK University students

Conroy, Dominic, Morton, Charlotte and Griffin, Christine (2021) ‘Maturing out’ as dilemmatic: transitions towards relatively light drinking practices among UK University students. British Journal of Health Psychology, 26 (3). pp. 902-916. ISSN 1359-107X


University students in the UK engage in relatively high alcohol consumption levels, yet young adults, including students, now drink less than previously and abstain more. Against this cultural backdrop, our objective was to further understanding of ‘maturing out’ of excessive drinking practices among students by focusing on drinking transitions that had taken place during university years.

A qualitative interview study. Methods. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with ten 18-27-year-old UK undergraduate university students who self-identified as light or non-drinkers. Interviews were audio-recorded and anonymised interview transcripts were subjected to an experience-focused application of thematic analysis.

Participants reported dilemmas involved in transitions from relatively high to low levels of alcohol consumption. One dilemma was characterised by managing to drink less (or nothing) without cutting off social options with university friends/peers. A second dilemma concerned not wishing to fully abandon the pleasures and increased social confidence that alcohol consumption could afford. Results also demonstrated that self-reported drinking could contradict participants’ self-defined ‘light drinker’ status.

This study reinforces the view that ‘maturing out’ involves more than simply having gained new responsibilities during young adulthood. Recognition of these dilemmatic features of drinking transitions could be drawn on in novel campus-based interventions. Such interventions may help strengthen realistic and sustainable moderate drinking by guiding students to anticipate potential difficulties involved in planned reductions in personal drinking but to foster students’ ability to view drinking choices as in transition rather than as permanent and enduring.

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