Academic journal article International Journal of Emotional Education

Francesca D'Erricoa 1 , Marinella Pacielloa, Bernardina De Carolisb, Alessandro Vattanidc, Giuseppe Palestrad, Giuseppe Anzivinoa

Academic journal article International Journal of Emotional Education

Francesca D'Erricoa 1 , Marinella Pacielloa, Bernardina De Carolisb, Alessandro Vattanidc, Giuseppe Palestrad, Giuseppe Anzivinoa

Article excerpt


Alcohol is a popular drug of choice amongst most youths. Drinking from an early age can have serious social implications including unwanted pregnancy, aggression, low school grades and drop-outs, suicidal attempts, traffic-related deaths and date rape (Hingson, Heeren, Winter, & Wechsler, 2005; Hingson, Zha & Weitzmann, 2009. Adolescents who start drinking from an early age have a higher risk of developing alcohol problems later on in life (Geels et al, 2013). Frequent episodes of binge drinking can also cause a number of health concerns including memory problems, sexually transmitted diseases, cancer, depression, and permanent damage to brain structures (Cao, Willett, Rimm, Stampfer & Giovannucci, 2015; Shield, Parry & Rehm, 2014).

Teenage alcohol consumption is an alarming yet common practice in Malta. According to the latest European School Survey on Alcohol and other Drugs (ESPAD) (Arpa, 2015) alcohol is a popular substance among Maltese teenagers, with alcohol use and heavy episodic drinking in the past 30 days being higher than the EU average. The prevalence of alcohol consumption seems higher amongst boys. Overall, the survey reveals that alcohol consumption for both genders is higher than the EU average, despite the legal drinking age in Malta being 17 years.

Various studies have investigated the efficacy of interventions aimed to reduce alcohol consumption amongst teenagers. Schools are a viable setting to target unhealthy behaviours, offering the advantage of external and ecological validity (Winters, Leitten, Wagner & Tevway, 2007). School-based programs can be helpful in preventing the onset of drinking problems. They also offer diverse advantages including the elimination of transport problems or other difficulties revolving round the scheduling of appointments. Popular school-based programs include the European Drug Abuse Prevention Study (EU-DAP) (Caria et al, 2011) and Botvin's (1985) Life Skills Training Program. Programs incorporating high refusal self-efficacy skills are associated with increased abstinence from alcohol (Foster, Yeung & Neighbors, 2014). It seems that interventions focusing on low-risk drinking yield better outcomes than those aiming for total abstinence (Hawkins, Catalano and Arthur, 2002). A zero-tolerance approach is unlikely to be effective and may increase drinking patterns due to feelings of rebelliousness in adolescents (Marlatt & Witkiewitx, 2002).

Existing research has contributed to a wealth of knowledge for preventing substance misuse. A recent systematic review reveals that psycho-social programs are effective in reducing drunkenness and binge drinking among young people (Foxcroft & Tsertsvadze, 2011). A main drawback of some interventions is the length of programs. Although schools are ideal for delivering timely interventions, timetable restrictions, ongoing school activities, holidays and over-loaded syllabi often render the delivery of such programs difficult. Apart from that, universal preventive programs are unlikely to be effective since they fail to incorporate the social and cultural elements that play a crucial role in behaviour modification (Bandura, 1977). An ideal intervention is one that can be delivered in the minimum amount of time whilst targeting the needs of the given population.

A promising approach that can easily incorporate a cultural framework is the one based on Expectancy Theory, a derivative of Social Cognition Theory (Bandura, 1986). It is based on the notion that individuals develop 'if...then' relations or anticipatory perceived outcomes when engaging in particular behaviours. These expectancies are likely to influence the occurrence of a behaviour. Thus, individuals holding the expectancy that alcohol will make them more sociable are more likely to consume alcohol than those holding negative expectancies. Expectancies develop through acculturation and social learning. Alcohol expectancies (AE) can strongly influence not only the initiation but also the maintenance of drinking behaviour (Christiansen, Goldman & Inn, 1982). …

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