Academic journal article Journal of Drug Issues

Adolescent Alcohol Use Patterns from 25 European Countries

Academic journal article Journal of Drug Issues

Adolescent Alcohol Use Patterns from 25 European Countries

Article excerpt

Introduction

Adolescent alcohol use may be harmful, and the negative consequences are well known. Early, frequent, or high consumption leads to physical or mental health problems (Boys et al., 2003; Chen et al., 2008; Oesterle et al., 2004; Rohde, Lewinsohn, & Seeley, 1996; Strandheim, Holmen, Coombes, & Bentzen, 2009; Verdurmen, Monshouwer, van Dorsselaer, Ter Bogt, & Vollebergh, 2005) and is linked with a higher risk of being involved in traffic accidents, unprotected sexual contact and delinquent or violent behavior (Barnes, Welte, & Hoffman, 2002; Cooper, 2002; Hingson, Heeren, Levenson, Jamanka, & Voas, 2002; White, Loeber, Stouthamer-Loeber, & Farrington, 1999). Furthermore, poorer academic performance in high school, illicit drug use, and a higher risk of developing alcohol use disorders in adulthood are reported (DeSimone & Wolaver, 2005; Grant & Dawson, 1998; Grant, Stinson, & Harford, 2001; Wagner & Anthony, 2002).

Alcohol abuse prevention for adolescents, thus, is a mandatory but challenging task. A first challenge is that alcohol use in adolescence differs from alcohol use in adulthood; hence, existing criteria for adults might not to be applicable. Adolescents differ from adults not only in their biological metabolism and ethanol tolerance (Wills, Kash, & Winder, 2013) but also in their drinking habits and motives (Deas, Riggs, Langenbucher, Goldman, & Brown, 2000). They tend to use alcohol less frequently than adults but in heavier amounts and therefore might suffer from acute intoxication from "binge drinking" instead of suffering from consequences from chronic use (Deas et al., 2000; White & LaBouvie, 1989). Thus, it is not surprising that, so far, diagnostic systems such as Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in its 4th ed. (DSM-IV; American Psychiatric Association [APA], 1994) fail to diagnose alcohol abuse or dependence in adolescents although they experience harmful consequences (Chung et al., 2000; Rohde et al., 1996; Sacco, Bucholz, & Spitznagel, 2009). Concerning Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed. (DSM-5; APA, 2013), the same is expected with respect to adolescent harmful alcohol use (Winters, Martin, & Chung, 2011). Beyond that, alcohol use might serve as a behavioral strategy to cope with developmental stress as has been emphasized, for example, in problem behavior theory for years (Jessor, 1987). In other words, although the behavior is labeled "problematic," it might be "functional" when coping with developmental difficulties and is therefore youth-typical (Raithel, 2001). As a consequence, problematic alcohol use might be transient in adolescence in particular. Empirical evidence is given for this theory, and many studies show that prevalence rates of problem behavior increase during adolescence but decrease afterward for the majority of youths (Muthén & Muthén, 2000; Pinquart & Silbereisen, 2002).

A second challenge is to define which behavior is seen as "critical" or "at risk" and thus should be prevented. At this age, the terms "risky" or "problematic" with regard to alcohol use have various meanings and are still missing a common definition (Chung et al., 2000). Drinking alcohol frequently irrespective of the amount of consumption (Verdurmen et al., 2005) and the amount of alcohol consumed during a single drinking occasion (e.g., heavy episodic drinking or binge drinking) are both used as indicators of risky use (Oesterle et al., 2004). From a crosscultural perspective however, differences in social norms regarding the use of alcohol, for example, acceptance of drunkenness in public places, pose problems in defining risky forms of adolescent alcohol use, which might be applied across different countries (Room, 2001). Drinking alcohol at all at a young age (e.g., 14) may thus be seen as risky in one country, whereas in another, it is an indicator of family-embedded socially acceptable use (Room & Mäkelä, 2000). …

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