Alcohol consumption is a problematic but fairly common activity among U.S. teenagers of all ages. A range of factors can help determine the attitude that a given teen holds toward alcohol, as well as how much and how often he or she drinks. In a study published in March 2014 in the journal Addiction, researchers from the Prevention Research Center looked at the part that impersonal, alcohol-related environmental factors play in influencing teenagers’ drinking patterns and drinking beliefs. These researchers concluded that several such factors produce distinct effects on teen attitudes and practices.
Teen Alcohol Use Statistics
Over 50 percent of all U.S. teenagers have experimented with alcohol. The typical American boy first tastes alcohol during his preteen years at roughly age 11. The typical American girl first tastes alcohol at age 13, just after entering adolescence. Considerable numbers of teenagers from both genders get involved in a practice called binge drinking, which centers on consuming enough alcohol in a narrow span of time to meet the legal definition for drunkenness.
Harms Of Drinking During Adolescence
Known harms of drinking during adolescence include possible interruption of the normal process of brain development, heightened chances of developing alcohol poisoning, heightened chances of experiencing accidental or intentional injuries and heightened chances of developing problems with alcohol use disorder (alcohol abuse or alcoholism) during adulthood. In fact, current evidence indicates that teens who drink even small amounts of alcohol before age 15 encounter diagnosable alcohol-related issues in adulthood roughly 500 percent more often than their peers who start drinking at age 21 or later.
Known Risk Factors For Teen Alcohol Use
In teens, preteens and adults, the risks for alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harm come from a number of overlapping sources. Apart from any impersonal influences from the local environment, known risk factors for problematic drinking behaviors in teenagers include having a close genetic link to others with known alcohol problems, having any one of a variety of serious mental illnesses (schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, depression, etc.), having certain impulsive or sensation-seeking personality characteristics, belonging to a family or close peer group that views alcohol consumption in a favorable light, and having American Indian/Native Alaskan ancestry.
In addition, both teenage boys and teenage girls have unique risks for problematic alcohol use specific to their gender.
Impact Of Environmental Factors Including Bars On Teen Drinking Behaviors
In the study published in Addiction, the Prevention Research Center researchers used an examination of 1,478 teenagers from 50 small and medium-sized California cities to gauge the impact that impersonal environmental factors can have on a teenager’s drinking behaviors and beliefs. Specific factors under consideration included local ordinances governing the distribution of alcohol, police enforcement of local alcohol ordinances, the popularity of adult alcohol consumption in a given area and the density of alcohol-serving bars in a given area. The researchers looked at how these factors operated on their own and interacted with each other. To flesh out the larger picture of alcohol intake and alcohol-related harm, the study also included 8,553 adults drawn from the same group of cities.
The researchers concluded that teenagers who grow up in cities with a relatively large number of bars and in populations with relatively large numbers of adult drinkers are substantially more likely to drink alcohol than teenagers who grow up in cities with a relatively small number of bars and adult drinkers. They also concluded that teens who grow up in cities with large numbers of adult alcohol consumers are significantly more likely to drink excessively than teens who grow up in cities with fewer adult alcohol consumers. In addition, the researchers found that the number of bars in a given area influences aspects of adolescent alcohol-related attitudes that include the perception of alcohol as an easily obtainable substance and the perception of alcohol as a socially approved substance.
The authors of the study published in Addiction also found that teen involvement in alcohol use decreases in cities that have strong alcohol ordinances and take the steps necessary to enforce those ordinances. On the whole, they concluded, impersonal environmental factors related to alcohol use have a meaningful impact on the chances that any given teen will drink, drink excessively and view alcohol consumption in a favorable light. The authors specifically emphasize the ability of adult alcohol practices in any given community to influence how adolescents drink and think about drinking.
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