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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Alcohol use/abuse from an adolescent perspective : considerations for prevention programming Legge, Carole


This exploratory study examines alcohol use/abuse from an adolescent perspective. The study specifically addresses three issues: how and whether adolescents define their drinking behaviour as a social problem; what adolescents perceive as negative consequences and benefits of their use and what adolescents consider to be key influences on their drinking/nondrinking behaviour. The knowledge gained from the adolescent target group is one of the key components on which prevention programs should be developed. Specific examples of applying this knowledge base to prevention programming are given within the text of the study. Qualitative, single occasion focus group interviews were conducted with 60, grade 8, 10 and 12 students from urban and suburban high schools. Randomly chosen male and female students participated in a total of nine separate grade designated group discussions. The study indicates adolescents do not perceive drinking as a problem for their age group although they do recognize problematic elements associated with their drinking. Adolescents define drinking as a problem according to the drinking situation, the amount drunk, the type of drinker and how much control over drinking is exercised by the teenager. For most students in this study, alcohol functions to elevate moods, acts as a socializing aid with peers and offers temporary relief from daily presssures. Negative consequences are identified as short term effects of a drinking episode, the long term effects of prolonged use and the fear of getting caught engaging in an illegal activity prohibited by most parents. Both the perceptions of the definition of problematic teen drinking and the benefits and negative consequences of alcohol appear to change with increasing age. Parents, friends and social activities the teenagers are involved in are considered key influences on adolescent drinking behaviour. The key influencers act to either encourage or discourage teen drinking. Students do not perceive peer pressure as a strong influence to drink. The desire to conform to group drinking norms practised by their friends, particularly in party situations and the perception they will be forfeiting a good time with friends by not drinking are considered more pervasive influences on their drinking behaviour. Prevention programs need to recognize that teens, unlike adults, do not view adolescent drinking as problematic; that socializing needs of teenagers could be met by providing alternate opportunities for being with friends and having fun minus alcohol; that the emphasis placed in existing programs on teaching adolescents how to handle peer pressure, should be directed to looking at aspects of friendship having a greater impact on drinking and that parents, because of their key influence as models of drinking behaviour, be included as a prevention target. Overall, the findings in the study support the value of developing prevention programs based on a sound understanding of the nature of adolescent drinking practices as it changes with age and as perceived by adolescents.

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