Leisure and Alcohol Consumption

By Carruthers, Cynthia P. | Parks & Recreation, May 1993 | Go to article overview

Leisure and Alcohol Consumption


Carruthers, Cynthia P., Parks & Recreation


EDITOR'S NOTE: Cynthia Carruthers is an assistant professor in the Department of Sport and Leisure Studies at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

Leisure service professionals need to understand the complex relationship between alcohol consumption and leisure behavior. Abusive drinking can contribute to health, work, school, family and legal problems, and, among adolescents, is often associated with the use of other drugs. "Healthy" leisure participation is often espoused by the leisure service profession as a constructive alternative to alcohol/drug use. Both public leisure service professionals and therapeutic recreation specialists have advocated the use of leisure activities in preventing and treating alcohol abuse.

Paradoxically, drinking is usually done within leisure contexts (Simpura, 1985), and consequently affects leisure experiences. Given the prevalence of alcohol consumption in and during leisure, it would appear that drinking is perceived by some people as contributing positively to their leisure experiences. The study of the perceived contribution of alcohol to leisure experiences is important for two reasons. First, leisure service practitioners and researchers will more fully understand drinking as both a leisure activity (Simpura, 1985), and as a common influence on leisure experiences. Second,. if individuals do use alcohol to enhance their leisure experiences, there is a danger that some may rely, on alcohol to create enjoyable experiences. Leisure service professionals may be able to use information on the reinforcing properties of alcohol in leisure to assist individuals to attain satisfying leisure experiences without the use of alcohol.

Alcohol Consumption and Leisure Activity Patterns

Researchers have been sporadically investigating the relationship between drinking practices and leisure activity involvement of both alcoholics and nonalcoholics for the past 20 years. Sessoms and Oakley (1969) compared the frequency of participation in various leisure activities among alcoholics and individuals in the general population. They reported that the alcoholics' leisure involvement was characterized by passivity, with little interest in cultural activities, hobbies, or community organizations, and less than half the sport and outdoor involvement of the general population. Similarly, Selzer (1977) compared the frequency of participation in nine leisure activities between alcoholics and nonalcoholics. He found that alcoholics were less involved in eight of the activities, with the exception of "going out drinking with friends."

Some researchers and practitioners have interpreted these and similar findings to indicate that recovering alcoholics should be encouraged to get more involved in leisure activities post-discharge. However, other research has been conducted which would not support this approach. Tuchfield, Lipton, and Lile (1983) investigated the relationship between leisure participation and abstention from drinking among alcoholics following treatment. They reported that high levels of leisure involvement both prior to and following treatment were positively related to relapse (a return to drinking). They suggested that leisure involvement, especially social leisure involvement, exposed individuals to more situations that were conducive to drinking.

Other related studies using nonalcoholic or younger subjects have found a similar positive relationship between alcohol consumption and involvement in leisure activities. In 1977, Young and Kronus studied the frequency of alcohol consumption in relation to participation in seven outdoor recreation activities among nonalcoholic adults. They reported a strong, positive relationship between frequency of alcohol consumption and involvement in these outdoor activities. Similarly, Carruthers (1992) reported that frequency of drinking among adults in the general population was associated positively with involvement in community social leisure activities and outdoor leisure activities, while quantity of alcohol consumed per occasion was unrelated to patterns of leisure activity involvement. …

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