International Perspectives on Adolescent and Young Adult Drinking

By Ahlstrom, Salme K.; Osterberg, Esa L. | Alcohol Research, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

International Perspectives on Adolescent and Young Adult Drinking


Ahlstrom, Salme K., Osterberg, Esa L., Alcohol Research


Alcohol consumption by adolescents and young adults varies greatly in different countries and cultures, in different population groups within a country, and over time. Analyses of per capita consumption in different countries provide some information on drinking patterns of young people in various countries. School-based surveys conducted in a variety of European countries and in the United States offer more specific insight into the drinking behavior of this age group. Such surveys have analyzed variables such as age of onset of drinking; lifetime frequency of drinking; drinking to intoxication; frequency, amount, and timing of current drinking; and drinking consequences. These studies have demonstrated that drinking patterns of young people in, for example, Scandinavian, Anglo-Saxon, and Mediterranean countries vary greatly. Further analyses have explored the influence of social norms and related factors as well as alcohol availability and pricing on alcohol consumption among adolescents and young adults. The generalizability of the findings is limited, however, by the fact that most studies have been conducted in the United States and Europe. KEY WORDS: young adult; adolescents; AOD (alcohol and other drug) consumption; AOD use frequency; AOD intake per occasion; AOD use pattern; age of AODU (alcohol and other drug use) onset; heavy drinking; AOD abstinence; factors determining AOD demand; AOD effects and consequences; international AODR (alcohol and other drug related) problems; international aspects; ethnic differences; cultural patterns of drinking; gender differences; minimum drinking age laws; prevention through decreasing availability and accessibility; World Health Organization (WHO); European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD)

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Studies conducted in various countries have demonstrated that both the frequency of drinking alcoholic beverages and the amount of alcohol consumed per person or per occasion vary greatly among different countries and cultures, among different population groups within a given country, and for each population over time. Similarly, the rates of alcohol-related problems vary greatly among different countries and among different population groups. These differences are found not only for adult drinkers but also for adolescents and young adults.

One useful measure that can easily be determined in many countries is the total alcohol consumption of the population, which can be converted to average per capita consumption. This variable is related to the prevalence of heavy alcohol use and also is an important indicator of the prevalence of alcohol-related problems (Bruun et al. 1975; Edwards et al. 1994). The relationship between average per capita consumption and the level of alcohol-related problems in a population is influenced by the following factors:

* The number of drinkers in the population and their drinking habits (Babor et al. 2003). For example, if total alcohol consumption can be attributed to only 20 percent of the population, who mostly drink on the weekends (and the remaining population does not drink), the prevalence of heavy drinking and of alcohol-related problems will be different than if alcohol consumption can be attributed to 90 percent of the population who generally have only one drink per day.

* The drinking culture and attitudes toward drinking and alcohol-related problems. "Harmful" drinking and alcohol-related problems are in part culturally defined--that is, a behavior (e.g., drinking to intoxication) considered problematic in one culture may not be thought of as problematic in another culture.

* Overall historical, cultural, economic, and social circumstances that affect many areas related to alcohol consumption. For instance, if drinking habits are similar in two countries but people in one of those countries are significantly less likely to own a car, then the frequency of drunk driving and the proportion of alcohol-related deaths among all traffic fatalities will differ greatly between the two countries. …

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