A qualitative exploration of rural and semi-urban Sri Lankan men’s alcohol consumption

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Harmful alcohol drinking can have health and socio-economic consequences. However, consumption is also associated with pleasure and symbolic meanings. Alcohol intake is increasing in Sri Lanka. In-depth explorations of alcohol patterns are needed to inform interventions and policies. Qualitative data were collected over 11 months in 2014 and 2015 in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka. Ten focus group discussions were conducted in gender, age and geographically (rural and semi-urban) segregated groups. Observations were conducted at alcohol selling establishments and social gatherings. Bourdieu’s concepts practice, habitus, symbolic capital and distinction were used for the analysis. Three groups of consumers emerged: moderate consumers, abstainers and heavy drinkers. They each exercised distinctions through social codes of conduct within and towards other groups of consumers. Symbolic capital was expressed through choice of alcohol. Norms of ‘acceptable consumption’ were defined as ‘moderate drinking’ in covert, social and contained settings. Public, uncontrolled and solitary consumption violated norms of appropriate consumption. Young consumers communicated a ‘modern lifestyle’ through their consumption. This study found that alcohol practices mirrored social norms in this Sri Lankan setting. Alcohol and drug prevention and intervention efforts should take this into account.
Original languageEnglish
JournalGlobal Public Health
Issue number5
Pages (from-to)678-690
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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