Alcoholism & Addiction

Teen Drinking Crosses all Borders

Teen drinking is often stereotyped as a Western phenomenon, with movies typically portraying American teenage parties at homes where the parents are away. A recent study, however, highlights that teen drinking is a global problem, with young people everywhere using alcohol as a social currency. Drinking buys a teen into certain crowds of friends and often purchases acceptance.

The currency of alcohol also purchases other consequences, associated with risk factors for illness, injury and death. Also associated with alcohol are suicide attempts, unintended pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, and academic failure. Family relationships can become strained as teens respond to punishments for drinking and parents become frustrated with their teen’s choices.

The study, expected to be published in the February 2011 issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, shows that cultural and gender-based differences in the frequency of drunkenness among adolescents has declined. The results show that drunkenness has become more common in Eastern Europe and among female teens. It has become less common among Western teens and especially among boys.

Emmanuel Kuntsche, Ph.D., of Addiction Info Switzerland, Research Institute, Lausanne, and colleagues examine survey data from nearly 80,000 15-year-olds to investigate trends in teen drunkenness. The survey subjects were 51.5 percent female and 49.5 percent male, and represented seven Eastern European and 16 Western countries. The researchers examined drunkenness frequency, assessing levels by gender and country. The survey data was collected from the period between 1997 to 1998 and 2005-2006.

The survey data reveals that on average, 15-year-olds had been drunk two or three times. Eastern European countries showed an increase of 40 percent in the average frequency of drunkenness over the 10-year study period. While the increase crossed the genders, it was especially consistent among female teens.

In Western countries, the frequency of use declined, with 13 of 16 countries showing a significant decline averaging 25 percent. Especially in countries located in North America, Scandinavia, United Kingdom and Ireland, there was a significant decrease in frequency.

The increase in drunkenness among Eastern European teens may be explained by changes in socioeconomic conditions and an increase in alcohol advertising, according to the authors of the study. The researchers believe that young people in these countries may be the newest targets for marketing strategies that specifically cater to the interests of young people.

The authors also speculate that the decrease in drinking frequency among Western teens may reveal that drunkenness has lost its appeal to this group. The marketing for alcohol may have saturated the market, resulting in savvy teens who consider alcohol consumption as “conformist and traditional rather than innovative.”

The authors of the study suggest that prevention and education efforts be extended to teens in Eastern European countries and that those efforts target young females as well as males. In addition, using taxing policy to reduce the amount of alcohol consumed by teens may be an effective strategy to reduce the frequency of drinking among teens.

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