Background Heavy and hazardous alcohol use is an important driver of the Russian male mortality crisis. Previous studies have addressed the macro-level factors affecting changes in population-level drinking but few have addressed the social and contextual factors associated with individual change in drinking over the life course. There is also a dearth of qualitative research on Russian men’s drinking.
Methods This qualitative study was conducted as part of a longitudinal study on men’s alcohol consumption in Izhevsk, Russia, a medium size industrial town. We collected 25 semi-structured biographical interviews with men aged 33–60 years. Consistent with the biographical-narrative interview technique the interviewers asked the respondents to describe events in their lives and any significant changes in drinking over the lifetime. Interview data were coded independently by three researchers using thematic content analysis.
Results The drinking narratives describe changes occurring over a period of incredible social and economic instability brought on by the collapse of the Soviet Union. The dominant drinking pattern was decreasing binge and frequent drinking as men reached middle age which was precipitated by family building, reductions in drinking with work colleagues, and health concerns. A minority of men described chaotic drinking histories with periods of abstinence and heavy drinking. The results highlight the importance of the blue-collar work environment for conditioning male heavy drinking in young adulthood through a variety of social, normative and structural mechanisms. Bonding with workmates through heavy drinking was seen as an unavoidable and essential part of young men’s social life. Post-Soviet changes associated with marketisation reduced the propensity for workplace drinking but the important social function of male drinking sessions remained. With age peer pressure to drink decreased and the need to perform the role of responsible breadwinner put different behavioural demands on men. For some resisting social pressure to drink became an important site of self-determination and a mark of masculine maturity.
Conclusion The study highlights the intersecting influences of broader societal changes, contextual norms, and individual life events on alcohol use trajectories. Over the men’s lifetime the place where masculine identity was asserted shifted from the workplace to the home, which commonly resulted in a reduction in drinking. We contribute to existing theories of Russian male drinking by showing that the performance of age-related social roles influences Russian mens’ drinking patterns, drinking contexts and their attitudes. Further research should be conducted investigating drinking trajectories in Russian men.
- Alcohol use
- Russia: life course changes
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