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Alcohol use by athletes: Hierarchy, status, and reciprocity

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-01-10, 17:28 authored by Marc Harris, Carwyn Jones, David BrownDavid Brown

 Sport is considered a positive, health enhancing lifestyle choice. However, there is considerable evidence that many athletes, particularly those at university, engage in harmful levels of alcohol use. Despite decades of research showing student athletes consume alcohol at high levels, there have been no substantial in-roads into reducing consumption. At present, there is a need to better understand the social, cultural, and personal factors that drive athletes to consume harmful levels of alcohol. This study aimed to address this gap in literature by investigating the group level dynamics which may be driving heavy alcohol use and jeopardising attempts to reduce drinking. Over the course of one academic year, male (n = 9) and female (n = 6) rugby union athletes were recruited to take part in semi-structured interviews. Three overarching themes were identified that best represented the research findings, these were 1) social hierarchy, where alcohol use was used to create and sustain a social hierarchy, 2) status, where alcohol use was used to gain a reputation, and 3) reciprocity, where experienced athletes felt novices needed to go through the same (often painful and degrading) experiences they had. This study suggests that past approaches to reduce alcohol use among student athletes have substantially over-simplified the relationship and have over-focussed on the psychological contributors to this complex phenomena. 


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Journal of Sport and Social Issues




  • VoR (Version of Record)


Harris, M., Jones, C., & Brown, D. (2022) 'Alcohol use by Athletes: Hierarchy, status, and Reciprocity', Journal of Sport and Social Issues, DOI: 10.1177/01937235221144432

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Cardiff Met Affiliation

  • Cardiff School of Sport and Health Sciences

Cardiff Met Authors

Marc Harris Carwyn Jones David Brown

Cardiff Met Research Centre/Group

  • Qualitative Research Methods and Social Theory

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  • © The Authors


  • en

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