In this thesis, I explore the different meanings women's drinking may have for them, and the ways in which these may differ from those of the public, the medical profession, and alcohol treatment providers. I consider the sociological factors involved, such as marginalisation by medical diagnosis as a method of social control, involving particularly the disempowerment of women (Ettorre 1997). I challenge conventional views of 'alcoholism' as a 'relapsing condition' .(Szumlinski et al. 2008 p.24) and present an alternative, competing discourse. This recognises how women's social dissonance may be both response and resistance to gendered constraints, drawing upon understandings of the roles of carnival and the grotesque, as 'safetyvalves' which may either undermine or support established authority (Presdee 2000; Bakhtin 1984). Such a discourse sees it as unethical to impose majority behavioural expectations upon less powerful groups, such as the poor, the female and the lesbian, when no harm is being done to others by different approaches to, for example, alcohol use. Finally I consider ways in which a better understanding and acceptance might be achieved as to the nature of 'health' and the importance of authenticity and acceptance. When I began this research, I still saw 'myself as 'an alcoholic', although I had long ago stopped using alcohol, and the thesis reflects my journey as a lesbian, a mother and finally as a sociologist, applying this perspective to my life experience and that of other women.

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