The second report, ‘Teenage drinking cultures’ by Andrew Percy et al. investigates the influence of friendship groups on teenagers’ drinking.
The researchers identified eight groups of friends covering a mix of social class, gender and education, using data from the Belfast Youth Development Study. The 41 participants – aged 18 or 19 were asked about their drinking between the ages of 12 and 18 in order to construct a picture of the groups’ drinking culture and how it developed as the friends grew older.
Key points from the report include
Most young teenagers are drawn to alcohol by curiosity. Often, older siblings or other family members introduce a young teenager to alcohol. This new experience is quickly shared with close friends. Some teenagers start drinking alcohol so as not to be the odd one out amongst their friends.
When drinking, young people want to get drunk, have fun with their friends and sober up before having to go home. They rarely set out to drink so much that they are sick, lose control or pass out. There is a considerable stigma associated with getting too drunk.
Groups develop a range of customs (their drinking culture) that surround their alcohol consumption. These customs cover what they drink, how much they drink, where they drink and their intended level of intoxication.
Most teenagers appear to develop a degree of self-control over their alcohol consumption through trial and error, with mistakes occurring along the way. Teenage drinkers are particularly vulnerable when they change the social context in which they drink alcohol.
Parental attempts to restrict their teenager’s contact with alcohol seldom lead to a reduction in drinking. On some occasions parental actions actually increase the risk of young people getting too drunk.
The report also identifies that certain social activities are associated with lower levels of consumption, such as dating in early teenage years. (It is only when teenagers are a little older and drinking moves indoors that the mix of alcohol and dating is observed). Being part of a sports team or being committed to school are also associated with reduced levels of consumption.
The report finds that when young drinkers get too drunk they can be at risk of a wide range of alcohol-related harm, such as getting into fights or trouble with the police, or engaging in risky sexual behaviour. The authors suggest that teaching young people techniques and strategies to control their drinking may reduce their exposure to alcohol-related harm.