This study explored mid-adolescents’ views and experiences of socio-ecological influences on their drinking practices in order to help inform the development of interventions to reduce alcohol-related risk. We conducted 31 in-depth interviews with young people aged 13–17 in North East England. Verbatim interview transcripts and field notes were coded systematically and analysed thematically, following the principles of constant comparison. We adopted Bourdieu’s idea of social game-playing and elements of his conceptual toolkit (particularly habitus, capital and field) during analysis. Analysis yielded three intersecting themes: (1) ‘drinking etiquette’: conveying taste and disgust; (2) ‘playing the drinking game’: demonstrating cultural competency; (3) ‘hidden habitus’—the role of alcohol marketing. Our work demonstrates that there is a nexus of influential factors which come together to help shape and reinforce mid-adolescents’ behaviour, norms and values in relation to alcohol consumption. Drinking practices are not just formed by friendships and family traditions, these are also subject to wider cultural shaping including by the alcohol industry which can encourage brand identification, and gear specific products to add ‘distinction’. However young people are not inactive players and they use aspects of capital and social games to help cement their identity and present themselves in particular ways which in turn are influenced by age, gender and social status. Guided by promising work in the tobacco field, interventions which focus on critical awareness of the framing of alcohol products by key stakeholders, such as policymakers, commercial industry and public health professionals, and by wider society may facilitate behaviour change among young people.
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