Törrönen, J., Roumeliotis, F., Samuelsson, E., Kraus, L., Room, R.Why are young people drinking less than earlier? Identifying and specifying social mechanisms with a pragmatist approach
International Journal of Drug Policy, 64, 13-20. doi:10.1016/j.drugpo.2018.12.001
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Recent surveys have found a strong decrease in alcohol consumption among young people and this trend has been identified in European countries, Australia and North America. Previous research suggests that the decline in alcohol consumption may be explained by changes in parenting style, increased use of social media, changes in gender identities or a health and fitness trend. We use qualitative interviews with drinking and non-drinking young people from Sweden (N = 49) to explore in what way and in what kinds of contexts these explanations may hold true and how they alone or together may explain declining alcohol consumption among young people. By using the pragmatist approach, we pay attention to what kinds of concerns, habits, practices, situations and meanings our interviewees relate to adolescents' low alcohol consumption or decline in drinking. By analyzing these matters, we aim to specify the social mechanisms that have reduced adolescents' drinking. Our paper discovers social mechanisms similar to previous studies but also a few that have previously been overlooked. We propose that the cultural position of drinking may have changed among young people so that drinking has lost its unquestioned symbolic power as a rite of passage into adulthood. There is less peer pressure to drink and more room for competing activities. This opening of a homogeneous drinking culture to the acceptance of differences may function as a social mechanism that increases the success of other social mechanisms to reduce adolescents' drinking. Furthermore, the results of the paper suggest a hypothesis of the early maturation of young people as more individualized, responsible, reflective, and adult-like actors than in earlier generations. Overall, the paper provides hypotheses for future quantitative studies to examine the prevalence and distribution of the identified social mechanisms, as well as recommends directions for developing effective interventions to support young people's healthy lifestyle choices.