Young women’s alcohol consumption: acknowledging the unconscious

Alcohol consumption and its well-publicised consequences have come to signify a number of highly charged social, political and economic debates. Much alcohol discourse is however stuck in a logical, rational and conscious narrative. The drive in health policy towards ‘sensible drinking’ appears to promote a neutral, in-between ‘space’ – which is perfectly understandable and difficult to challenge because it relies on a language of ‘common sense’. Yet it seeks to rationalise behaviour by eliminating ambiguity – that very ambiguity we need to understand. It sometimes seems too obvious to ask questions about who drunkenness lets you be (perhaps someone else or more yourself? Or perhaps a bit of both?). Might there be something else to say about drinking? In this presentation, I examine young women’s social drinking practices and their involvement in normative drinking practices, drawing on qualitative research with young women in the UK and the Netherlands. I use psychoanalytic and feminist insights, specifically those of Melanie Klein and Angela McRobbie to tease out the contradictions and ambivalences in both the young women’s own narratives about their drinking behaviour and wider discourse on women’s drinking in public spaces. Finally I consider the implications of this for safer drinking initiatives and health policy messages on ‘sensible drinking’.