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Understanding Teen Drinking Cultures in America

Psychological and sociological factors affect adolescents decisions regarding alcohol

Seeking a fresh look at teen drinking, the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (Responsibility.org) funded a research initiative at George Mason University to probe teens’ knowledge and expectations about alcohol and obtain a more complete sense of the dynamics of teen drinking and of the connections between teen drinking and such factors as: gender, religious commitment, academic achievement, peer pressure, and public education campaigns.

Understanding Teen Drinking Cultures in America, blends the perspectives and methods of public health and cultural anthropology, and seeks to complement what is already known about teens and alcohol.   This qualitative and quantitative research focuses on understanding the cultures surrounding teens and alcohol, incorporating teen and parent focus groups, expert and key informant interviews, community leader discussions, and telephone polling all complemented by an extensive literature review.

The final report, executive summary and Understanding Teen Drinking Cultures in America website offer detailed insights about teens’ choices to drink and not to drink.  Highlighting teens’ perspectives, messages heard, categories of teen drinking, and frameworks for risky and positive alcohol decisions.  It also incorporates students’ and parents’ experiences, knowledge gaps, and influences on teen choices.  The research provides a rich foundation for program and policy development with recommendations for regional and national initiatives.

Key segments of the research results and recommendations include:

Teens Drinking Phenomenology – provides substantive insight into factors that contribute to teens’ decisions about alcohol and offers a categorization of teen alcohol roles: these include Abstainers, Moderate Drinkers, Partiers, and Losers.

  • Abstainers rarely or never consume alcohol.
  • Moderate Drinkers drink occasionally, to be sociable, and do not usually drink to get drunk.
  • Partiers drink more heavily, often to get drunk, and tend to encourage others to drink.
  • Losers, held in low regard by other teens, take partying too far, to the point where they endanger themselves, disrupt others’ fun, and lose face.

Parents – provides insights into the role that parents play in teens’ decisions about alcohol, parents’ perceptions of teen drinking and how they currently address it with their sons and daughters.

Community Leaders – provides insights from a range of “front line” community leaders who are regularly interacting with youth in a variety of roles, including those who focus on teens’ alcohol issues.

Literature Review – A detailed bibliographic review of existing research that informs underage drinking.