Telling our own stories: an exploratory study of alcohol use and harm by people who identify as Roma, Gypsies and Travellers

6 November 2023


Professor Louise Condon1, Suzy C Hargreaves1, Denise Barry2, Jolana Curejova3, Donna Leeanne Morgan4, Sam Worrall5, Dr Filiz Celik1 and Dr Menna Price1

1Swansea University, Faculty of Medicine, Health, and Life Science
2Advocate for Gypsy and Traveller communities
3Peer researcher from the Slovakian Roma community
4Peer researcher from the Gypsy community
5Peer researcher from the Boater community

Executive summary

What we did?

We studied alcohol use and harm among four diverse ethnic and cultural groups who had a background of nomadism, using Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) methods. The aim was to find out ‘how people like us drink’ and to explore the social norms1 of alcohol consumption . In 2021-2022 peer researchers conducted qualitative interviews based upon vignettes with 26 Gypsies, Roma, Travellers and Boaters. We co-created digital stories from our findings.

What we found?

We found that all groups have a strong cultural and ethnic identity and celebration with alcohol at community occasions, such as weddings, was part of this. As in the majority population, social norms strongly influenced drinking behaviours in each community. All groups had negative attitudes to drunkenness and thought moderation in using alcohol was important.

For Gypsies, Roma and Travellers young women’s drinking was highly stigmatised whereas it was considered normal and manly for men to drink. Generational changes were that everyday drinking had increased among Gypsies and Travellers, particularly seasonal drinking, drinking at home and women using alcohol when socialising together. Roma participants described drinking less post-migration as there were more opportunities for education, employment and training for them in the UK. Boaters described a culture of regular daily drinking, focused around socialising on the towpath with peers. Gypsies and Travellers, and to some extent Boaters, experienced overt discrimination when drinking in public places in the UK.

All groups experienced barriers to seeking help for dependent drinking; for Gypsies, Roma and Travellers this was due to shame, for Boaters not having a fixed address made registering with a GP and accessing treatment difficult.

What this means

Gypsies, Travellers and Roma are likely to be disproportionately affected by alcohol harm due to socio-economic disadvantage, gendered attitudes to drinking, predisposition to shame for health problems and discrimination. For Boaters, barriers to GP registration need to be addressed. Targeted health promotion and accessible alcohol treatment services are required for these groups; these need to be culturally sensitive in order to allow these marginalised communities to overcome obstacles to service use.

1Social norms are the unwritten rules of behaviour within society, communities and families.

Digital stories

The following evidence-based digital stories have been produced as part of the Alcohol Change UK New Horizons research project to present common experiences of alcohol within Boater, Roma, Travellers and Gypsy communities. The composite stories are taken from our research findings and narrated by members of the community.

A Boaters Story

Watch Ivy's story:

A Roma Story

Watch Kveta's story:

An Irish Travellers Story

Watch John's story:

A Gypsy Story

Watch Susan's story: