Adolescents adapt drinking behaviour

alcohol and society

American adolescents adapt their drinking according to their good experiences and absence of bad results. Such the conclusion of Julie Goldberg, University of Illinois, and her colleagues from the University of California.

Adolescents see no risks because they think they are indestructible. Warnings about health risks appear to be unable to deter them. J. Goldberg wanted to investigate adolescent attitudes to the risks and the advantages of alcohol and tobacco consumption, how these change with age, and whether experience changed their drinking and smoking habits after six months. 395 students from 18 schools in North California in groups of respectively 10–11, 12-13 and 14-15 years were recruited for the purpose. As was to be expected, the older students were more experienced with drinking: 73% of the oldest drank alcohol, 41% heavily (6 or more drinks per episode). In the youngest group 28% drank, and 3% heavily.

Only 19% of the drinkers in the youngest group were aware of the effects of drinking, and 83% found the experience positive. In the middle group 43% knew about the effects, with 91% saying positive. 84% of the oldest group knew about the effects, with almost everyone (98%) reporting the experience as positive. The advantages of drink came more to the foreground with increasing age, while the risks were thought to be less probable.

Looking at their drinking behaviour six months later, it is noted that probability of drinking decreased by 16% for every 10% increase of estimated risk, while the chance of drinking increased by 16% for every 10% increase of perceived advantage. Most drinking students mentioned definite advantages from drink, contrasting with the typical message of the adolescents on the subject, where the emphasis is more on the negative, often fatal, results.

Younger adolescents were quite aware of the risks and their own vulnerability, but that was more in terms of expectation rather than any actual experience. However, the perceived risks must consciously exceed any experienced advantages of drinking. The lower estimation of risk among older adolescents is perhaps not the result of preconceived ideas about indestructibility. It is perhaps only an adaptation to their often positive experience and the absence of bad experiences.

The authors advocate a new approach toward prevention among adolescents, with the emphasis on safer ways of drinking in order to enjoy the benefits. But then you need to know which particular benefits will interest adolescents most.

Source: The Quarterly Review of Alcohol Research; 2003, Volume II, No. 1.


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