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Alcohol Consumption in North Dickins

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    The purpose of this study is to gain a more thorough understanding of perceptions held by residents of the North Dickinson School District, regarding community mores surrounding alcohol use. Specifically, the purpose is to gain a greater understanding of residents’ thoughts and feelings about how the ND community mores regarding alcohol use impact their personal lives. The impacts studied will include, but not be limited to, the interviewees’ own alcohol use.

    There is a great deal of focused research on parental alcohol use as it relates to the drinking behaviors of adolescents. Early parental sharing of alcohol is common in the US among children under the age of 13, increases the frequency and quantity of alcohol consumed by adolescents, and increases the number of alcohol related problems for adolescents. This impact is found across sociocultural groups. The role of lenient parental attitudes toward drinking and parents’ own excessive alcohol use is shown to be associated with increased alcohol use and alcohol related problems among adolescents in lenient drinking cultures.

    Similar to familial influence, studies indicate that adolescents who perceive their peers as engaging in alcohol use, are also more apt to exhibit a willingness to drink. Litt and Stock explain this phenomenon using the Perceived Willingness Model. They discovered that after viewing social network sites where teens were portrayed in positive ways while using alcohol; the participants reported a greater willingness to use alcohol, had more favorable attitudes about using alcohol, and showed a lower perceived risk attached to alcohol use than the control group.

    Research supports the concept that social mores impact alcohol use; however, very little work has been done in identifying and understanding the thoughts and feelings held by rural residents about their community’s social norms around alcohol. Further hindering our level of understanding, few studies have been done on alcohol use in very rural or remote populations, defined as completely rural counties which have fewer than 2,500 urban population, not adjacent to a metro area.

    In the past there has been a perception that rural communities are not plagued by the same substance abuse issues as urban areas. Contained within that picture of the idyllic countryside is the idea that rural communities do not have as many problems associated with excessive alcohol use as their urban counterparts. This view has gradually been exposed as false, and excessive and underage drinking are now being recognized as normative rural values. The more rural an area, the higher the rate of binge drinking and heavy drinking among youth. What has not been shown is what the experience is truly like; or how individuals think and feel about their experiences in these very rural communities with excessive alcohol use.

    One potential explanation of alcohol use is simply availability. Stanley, Henry, and Swaim measured social, physical, and perceived availability of alcohol among youth and found that students who had the perception that alcohol use is socially normative, and that it is easily accessible to them, had a higher rate of alcohol consumption. Physical availability also increased usage.

    Karen Van Gundy’s 2006 report, Substance Abuse in Rural and Small Town America, is the one study I was able to locate that incorporated significant qualitative research relevant to my research question. She utilized a mixed methods approach, which combined both quantitative data and thick, rich data from conducted interviews which helped provide context and answer questions. Van Gundy discovered that isolated rural communities can function in similar patterns as extended families, and if there is a dysfunction present, that dysfunction often becomes accepted as a social norm. In the case of excessive alcohol use, this norm can become not only accepted, but even supported and hidden from ‘outsiders’. This mentality also hinders people from seeking help from the already limited resources available to help with alcohol related problems.

    Studies show a dire need for addressing the issue of excessive alcohol use in rural communities, but few reveal a pathway out of the dilema. The pathway begins with a greater understanding of individuals within their unique rural settings, and the social mores that impact their lives in regard to excessive alcohol use. The majority of studies I found regarding rural social mores surrounding alcohol use were quantitative studies focused on adolescent drinking behavior. Researchers examined parental influence on the patterns of alcohol use in adolescents; social impacts on the patterns of alcohol use, and compared drug and alcohol use in rural and urban populations. Although it is helpful to know the usage patterns of excessive alcohol use in rural America, I believe there is a great need for more deeply understanding the thoughts and feelings of individuals impacted by excessive use. These insights would greatly inform rural-specific programs of intervention, prevention, and treatment.


    A purposive sample of six adults from the North Dickinson community will be interviewed in this phenomenological study. Participants will have grown up in the ND area, and have first hand knowledge of community mores regarding excessive alcohol use. Attention will be given to discovering the mores these interviewees attribute to the ND area, and the thoughts and feelings these interviewees have regarding how these mores have impacted their life. Interviews will be semi-structured and will be conducted in a public private setting. Interviews will last 45-60 minutes and be sound recorded with consent and transcribed by the interviewer. Repeated phrases or words will then be clustered and common themes will be identified. An in-depth description of the phenomenon will be written by the interviewer and reviewed by the interviewees for additional validating.

    The following questions will provide structure for the interviews:

    • What is your understanding of the common practices of alcohol use in the ND community?
    • What has been your experience of how the ND community views those practices?
    • How do you think these community views about alcohol use have impacted your own life personally?
    • What feelings do you have as you think about those impacts?

    Participants will have some degree of relationship to myself as the interviewer. However, bracketing will be done in an effort to set aside my previous perceptions of how excessive alcohol use has impacted the lives of the interviewees. I acknowledge my past interest and involvement in assisting individuals in the ND community in their experiences surrounding excessive alcohol use and will attempt to set aside my experiences when collecting the data. Analysis of the data will provide an in-depth description regarding how commonly held mores of excessive alcohol use in the North Dickinson community impact individual lives.

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