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Men, blue collar work and drinking: alcohol use and misuse in an industrial subculture

Janes, Craig R.; and Ames, Genevieve M.

Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry, vol. 13, pgs. 245-274 (1989)

We present the findings of research designed to identify the social and environmental precursors of heavy drinking in a population of white assembly-line workers. Using a primarily qualitative approach, we examine alcohol use in relation to the sociocultural characteristics of individuals' community and workplace environments and their early-life socialization experiences. The sample consists of 30 men--15 heavy drinkers and 15 moderate drinkers--who were drawn from the workforce of a large durable goods manufacturing plant that closed in 1982. Workers' accounts of their own and coworkers' drinking suggest that a heavy drinking subculture existed in the workplace. Within this culture, drinking was a normal part of work life, and served to improve social relationships, reduce boredom and dissatisfaction, and to express solidarity in defiance of management rules and working conditions. Membership in this subculture, we believe, was most important for those men who had no interests or social involvements outside the workplace. We compare the characteristics of workers who chose to join this subculture (the heavy drinkers), with those who did not (moderate drinkers). Factors that predicted involvement in the heavy drinking subculture were: a sociocultural background where heavy male drinking was normative, lack of extra-work social resources, and leisure activities restricted to coworkers and work-related contexts. Conversely, moderate drinkers tended to come from moderate drinking backgrounds, and had considerable community and social group involvements that included family and peer networks to the virtual exclusion of coworkers.