Academic journal article Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education

High Potency and Other Alcoholic Beverage Consumption among Adolescents

Academic journal article Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education

High Potency and Other Alcoholic Beverage Consumption among Adolescents

Article excerpt


This study examined the prevalence of high potency (liquor, malt liquor, fortified wine) and other alcoholic beverage consumption (beer, wine/wine coolers) among adolescents, the impact of gender and ethnicity, and the risk and protective factors that predicted consumption. A confidential survey revealed that, among eighth grade students, wine/wine coolers were the most popular alcoholic beverages, with the highest levels of lifetime use, and the greatest current frequency and quantity of use, followed closely by beer and liquor. Minor gender differences were found, as well as notable ethnic differences, in consumption. Intentions and attitudes were important predictors of use across beverages. Different factors may need to be targeted depending upon the type of beverage that is addressed in future prevention programs.


High potency beverages have either higher than typical alcohol content (e.g., high proof liquor) or are sold in larger than average serving sizes (e.g., 40 ounce malt liquor) and thus, have a higher than typical potential for abuse. Wine coolers, high proof liquor, malt liquor, and fortified wines have become increasingly popular with adolescents (Boys, Marsden, Stillwell, Hutchings, Griffiths & Farrell, 2003; McBride, Midford, Farringdon, & Phillips, 2000), and in recent years, the alcohol industry has intensified the development and marketing of these types of drinks to the youth market (Center on Alcohol Monitoring and Youth, 2002; Hughes, MacKintosh, Hastings, Wheeler, Watson, & Inglis, 1997; Jackson, Hastings, Wheeler, Eadie, & MacKintosh, 2000; Martin et al., 2002; McKeganey, Forsyth, Barnard, & Hay, 1996). Only wine advertisements targeted adults more than youth (Garfield, Chung, & Rathouz, 2003). For example, according to the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Georgetown University, 45 percent more beer and 27 percent more distilled spirits advertisements targeted youth than adults in 2001.

Although the exact amounts can vary, the Indiana Prevention Resource Center (Bailey, 1998) reports that the percent alcohol by volume is 4-4.5 percent for beer, 5-8 percent for wine coolers (specialty wine coolers can be up to 20%), and 8-12 percent for wine. Malt liquors are as high as 8 percent, fortified wines are almost 20 percent, and high proof liquors can be over 75 percent alcohol by volume. The fact that beer and wine coolers are both often sold in 12 ounce bottles, for example, can create an erroneous perception that the two drinks are equivalent, while in fact a 12 ounce wine cooler is one-and-a-half times more potent than a 12 ounce beer. A 40-ounce bottle of malt liquor, as it is often sold and consumed, has the equivalent amount of alcohol of approximately six beers. Given this large range of alcohol content and serving sizes, it is critically important that researchers carefully define and measure high potency beverages. Furthermore, it is important that researchers examine individual beverage types separately, as the patterns of consumption are likely to vary widely, as are the consequences of their use.

Little research has been conducted in the area of high potency alcohol consumption by adolescents. However, one study (McBride et al., 2000) found that wine and regular beer were preferred among a 13-year-old sample when initially surveyed, but that when surveyed a second time later in the school year, the preference for spirits and alcoholic sodas had increased. A qualitative analysis by Hughes and colleagues (1997) found that most adolescents were acquainted with the so-called designer drinks (defined by the researchers as a range of fortified wines including MD 20/20 and white ciders such as White Lightning). Fourteen and fifteen year old participants reported consuming almost anything that was "relatively strong, inexpensive, and pleasant tasting" (all characteristics of designer drinks). In contrast, 16- to 17-year-olds tried to appear mature and experienced with alcohol, and opted for spirits and bottled beers. …

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