Australian drinkers often make excuses and break social conventions when they cut down on drinking, research shows.

A new paper in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review shows people often feel stigmatised for “violating expectations” about drinking in their social circles.

University of Adelaide PhD student Ashlea Bartram conducted the study as part of her ongoing research into the social experiences of people who decide to change their drinking habits.

“In interviews with participants, it became quite clear there is a stigma attached to people cutting back on alcohol or stopping it altogether. It's as though some kind of social code has been violated by the person who has chosen, for whatever reason, to stop drinking,” Ms Bartram says.

She says that to avoid this stigma, non-drinkers can become adept at masking the fact they are not drinking, or else providing acceptable excuses for turning down a drink, such as being unwell or needing to drive.

But respondents said they felt uncomfortable using such deceptions with close family and friends.

“As a result, people who want to cut back on alcohol often find themselves making excuses not to attend social gatherings. They will also seek to make other arrangements so that social gatherings are not focused on activities normally associated with alcohol consumption.”

Ms Bartram says despite the social challenges, the participants highlighted some real positives.

“Those who found new ways to spend time with their peers that weren’t focused on alcohol often find it's the best approach,” she said.

“Some have received strong support from their loved ones, and others have reported improved quality of social interactions – such as meaningful conversations – when alcohol is taken out of the equation.”

Ms Bartram is seeking more Australian men for the next phase of her study, to discuss their experiences of a close friend or family member stopping or cutting back their drinking. Anyone interested in joining can phone 08 8313 6880.