High School Drinking and Its Consequences

Article excerpt

Alcohol use continues to be one of the most significant risk behaviors engaged in by teens, as indicated, for example, by results from the 2001 Monitoring the Future survey (Johnston, O'Malley, & Bachman, 2002). In that survey, 63.5% of tenth graders and 73.3% of twelfth graders reported drinking in the past year, with 39.0% and 49.8%, respectively, reporting alcohol use in the past 30 days. Having been drunk in the past 30 days was reported by 21.9% of tenth graders and 32.7% of twelfth graders. An important issue is whether adolescents' use of alcohol is problematic merely because they are underage, or whether adolescents are, in fact, engaging in problem drinking with associated negative consequences. Attitudes toward teenage drinking are often mixed, in fact, because of ambiguity regarding whether this behavior represents a problem beyond that associated with age.

Problems associated with alcohol use have most often been examined in terms of heavy consumption. Problem drinking is typically defined based on high frequency and/or high quantity, with consumption of 5 or more drinks on one occasion (i.e., binge drinking) being a common definition (e.g., Jones-Webb, Toomey, Short, Murray, Wagenaar, & Wolfson, 1997). Research has indicated that problem drinking is common among high school students. In a longitudinal study of adolescent risk behaviors, Oullette, Gerrard, Gibbons, and Reis-Bergan (1999) found that 39.5% of younger adolescents (ages 14 to 16) reported having consumed a whole glass of beer or wine recently. This number doubled to 81.5% for older adolescents (ages 17 and 18). Ouellette et al. also found that 22.1% of younger adolescents and 64.1% of older adolescents reported drinking to excess recently.

Problem drinking among teenagers is, not surprisingly, associated with a number of negative consequences. Ouellette et al. (1999), for example, found that among teenagers who reported drinking, 83.8% said they had experienced at least one alcohol-related problem in the past twelve months. These problems included hangovers, behaving in ways they regretted, getting into arguments because of drinking, and being unable to remember part of the evening. Of even greater concern are alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents among teenagers. Hingson (1993) estimated that 50% of all fatal car crashes among drivers under the age of 21 involve alcohol. Furthermore, Bachman, Johnston, and O'Malley (1987) noted that one in four high school seniors reported driving after drinking in the past two weeks, and two in five seniors reported having ridden with a driver who had been drinking. Additionally, Derman, Cooper, and Agocha (1998) found that alcohol use was associated with greater sexual risk taking. Fergusson and Lynskey (1996) found that adolescents who used alcohol reported an earlier onset of sexual activity.

Various studies have sought to identify variables associated with problem drinking and its consequences. Research on predictors of negative consequences has primarily focused on peer influences, parental influences, and alcohol consumption rates. In a longitudinal survey of rural adolescents, Oullette et al. (1999) examined the roles of alcohol consumption, perceived norms, and parental alcohol consumption on alcohol expectancy, future consumption, and related life problems. Data were compared across time periods: Fall 1992 (Time 1) to Spring 1994 (Time 4). They found that perceptions regarding peer alcohol use were directly related to alcohol consumption across time and to alcohol-related life problems at Time 4. Alcohol consumption at Time I and parental consumption at Time 1 were not directly related to negative consequences of alcohol use at Time 4, though they did have indirect relationships through beliefs about alcohol. Alcohol consumption at Time 4 was predicted by perceived norms at Time 1. In their model, Oullette et al. included expectations regarding alcohol and the kind of people who drink. …