Alcohol is the sixth-highest contributing risk factor to Australia’s overall burden of disease. While drinking levels have declined in the general Australian population, men are consistently identified as heavier drinkers than women and are disproportionately represented in treatment for alcohol-related health issues.
While alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harms have been the focus of decades of research, little is known about the personal experiences of men who drink heavily on a regular basis, including the gender dynamics that shape this consumption.
A team from the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society interviewed men who drink heavily and experience serious alcohol-related health difficulties to understand how they view their drinking, manage and respond to the health conditions they experience, and make decisions around accessing healthcare services.
The researchers argue that heavy drinking cannot simply be attributed to individual choice but is, instead, part of multiple social dynamics including gender norms and stereotypes.
“In our study, social isolation emerged as central to participants’ relationship with alcohol,” said project researcher, Dr Renae Fomiatti, “as were the drinking patterns of male members of their families growing up, which carried gendered expectations around alcohol consumption. Sadly, some participants described the caring demonstrated by health workers as new in their lives.”
Treatment for alcohol-related issues were also found to be shaped by gendered expectations of caregiving.
“It’s now clearer how gender dynamics relate to drinking patterns for men who drink heavily, the emergence and persistence of alcohol-related health problems they experience, and any help-seeking and treatment they’re involved in,” said Fomiatti.
“Our findings highlight the need to rethink how we view drinking and the treatment of alcohol-related health issues. We need to address the complex factors that shape heavy drinking beyond individual ‘behaviours’, including working on men’s social connection and belonging, so that we can improve the wellbeing of men who drink heavily.”
Read the paper.