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Namino Melissa Glantz-Wright,* Imelda Martínez-Hernández,* Rolando Tinoco-Ojanguren,+* Patricia de León-Ruiz*

The goal of this study was to better understand how alcohol consumption is related to couple relationships in the socio-cultural context of Comitán, Chiapas, Mexico. The Comitán Center forHealth Research (Centro de Investigaciones en Salud de Comitán, CISC) used qualitative methods to explore how nonindigenous, not-necessarily alcoholic couples experience alcohol consumption and their conjugal relationships; focusing on how these phenomena are interwoven. Interviews with ten couples, structured interviews with key informants, and participant observation in strategic locationsallowed exploration of the following questions: 1) Which are the common patterns of alcohol consumption (initiation, quantity, frequency, spaces) in couples, and how do such patterns differ by gender? 2) What links between alcohol consumption and conjugal relationships were perceived and explicitly mentioned by men and women? 3) What do men and women perceive as the needs and functions that alcoholconsumption may satisfy, especially within the conjugal relationship, and how do these perceptions vary by gender? Regarding patterns of alcohol consumption, we found differences in the initiation of alcohol consumption by gender, with the male informants starting to drink at a much younger age than their wives. Additionally, men in each of the interviewed couples tended to drink greater quantities,with more frequency, and in a wider variety of social spaces than their partners. For example, drinking is perceived as a pastime in which men may engage in multiple public spaces, while women’s drinking is limited to parties and family get-togethers. Additionally, (only) men’s alcohol consumption seems to vary by the stage of the couple’s relationship, as those men who drank excessively were juststarting their marriage or union and did not yet have children. Reductions in men’s alcohol consumption seemed to occur when their children were young, while men whose children were grown tended to increase their drinking. In discussing the motives behind their drinking, men posited alcohol consumption as a strategy to satisfy various needs. On one hand, drinking offers the possibility of loweringtheir inhibitions

and achieving a certain closeness with their partners. On the other hand, however, men used alcohol consumption to justify an ill-treatment of their partners. Furthermore, in drinking, they have found a way to influence their partner’s behavior, usually limiting how much the wife drinks and controlling her behavior while she drinks. Additionally, men in this context usedrinking to reinforce their own masculine identity, a strategy that is socially sanctioned and scarcely criticized by others. We observed that there are social spaces of permissiveness, tolerance, and even promotion of alcohol consumption, and these spaces are related to the representation of masculinity. Also, for men only, drinking is perceived to trigger behavior that is otherwise seen asunjustified, such as conjugal violence. Alcohol consumption, then, is a disinhibitor, a reference to belonging in the masculine group, and a characteristic of male identity. In contrast, it is the absence of drinking that defines a “good woman”. Paradoxically, drinking is not perceived as an illness, but rather as a moral issue. It is not surprising that women, instead of seeing drinking as a strategy tosatisfy needs, perceived alcohol consumption as a source of difficulties. As a result, ceasing to consume alcohol appears to them a universal remedy or “cure-all”, a magic bullet, for various problems. The female informants summarized their hopes with the phrase, “If only he didn’t drink...”. They believed that if the husband did not consume alcohol, he would stop scolding, becoming jealous and...
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