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Motivation for Teen Drinking May Signal Problems

By January 24, 2008

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Most high school students who drink do so to experiment with alcohol, have fun or relax. Those who drink to deal with problems, anger or frustration, however, are the drinkers who exhibit the most problematic drinking behaviors, according to a new study. Those who list multiple reasons to drink, including coping with life, are the heaviest drinkers.

A study of 1,877 high school students from the national Monitoring the Future survey found that three-quarters of high school seniors have already experimented with alcohol. Researchers at Penn State found that their motivation for drinking was a big factor in determining if they were high-risk for developing drinking problems.

Drinking for Multiple Reasons

The study found the following trends:

  • Boys were more likely to be thrill seekers, a high-risk group.

  • Girls were more likely to be experimenters, a low-risk group.

  • Experimenters, boys and girls, were more likely to start drinking at a later age.

  • Boys who reported drinking before 4 p.m. were eight times more likely to belong to the highest-risk group, those who drink for multiple reasons.

  • Girls who drank before 4 p.m. were six times more likely to drink for multiple reasons.

Small, But High-Risk Group

"Our study found that for the graduating class of 2004, students who had multiple reasons to drink, including reasons related to coping, were also more likely to begin drinking at an earlier age, more likely to be drunk in the past year and more likely to drink before 4:00 p.m., compared to students who drank to experiment with alcohol, to experience the thrill of drinking or just to relax," according to Donna Coffman, PhD, in a news release.

"It is important to know why high school seniors drink so parents, teachers and high school counselors can pay special attention to the needs of the small but high-risk group of seniors who offer multiple reasons for drinking and who also have anger or frustration issues. Research shows that drinking patterns established during adolescence are likely to continue through adulthood," according to Coffman.

Targeted Prevention Effort Needed

"More than three-quarters of high school seniors have already experimented with alcohol, so it is too late to tell them 'not to drink,' or ask them to wait until they are of legal age. Kids who drink to help them deal with anger or frustration issues are not likely to benefit from a prevention program developed for kids who are just experimenting with alcohol," Coffman said.

The study was published in the December 2007 edition of Prevention Science, a peer-reviewed journal of the Society for Prevention Research.

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January 24, 2008 at 11:41 am
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September 23, 2008 at 7:47 pm
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