Who influences the alcohol use and misuse of British teenagers? Although the health risks of
Heavy drinking is known and understood, the social habit continues to be accepted as a cultural norm. Is
it? Surprising then, that the young people are beginning to drink at school ages. It is illegal to purchase
An alcoholic drink under the age of 18, it would appear through the current research that teenage drinking
Is common place.
A recent Scottish survey by McKegney N et al (1996), found that at least 50% of teenagers by the
age of 14 had been drunk one or more occasion. Another National study by McMiller and Plant
(1996) showed that 77.9% of 15-16 year olds have experienced intoxication. 50.3% of these had consumed
at least five units of alcohol consecutively within the last 30 days. The evidence is readily available to
inform us of the increasing problem of adolescence alcohol misuse and the damaging consequences of this.
How then should children be educated so that alcohol misuse can be prevented and sensible use of alcohol
can be advised. May.C (1993), suggests that fact giving information to target populations is the most
commonly used approach in health education. Whist knowledge may be tested and be proved to have
improved by this method of education, studies have shown that there is a failure to demonstrate a change in
attitudes and behaviours. Other more successful methods of education to change behavior must then be
investigated. By improving social assertiveness and self-control it has been described by May.C(1993),
have been attempted but these also when evaluated have produced a low success rate.
Major media campaigns can be useful in raising public awareness of social problems, although
his targets a vast uncontrolled audience and does not always reach the applicable persons. It is expensive
and often a political reaction to be seen by the public as addressing a problem. The family in British
society takes on many variations and so behaviors, norms and cultures differ greatly. Parents are, however
role models to their children from infancy, throughout childhood and into adulthood. Parental behavior
and attitudes toward alcohol consumption as with any social behavior is an influential factor that may
determine adolescent drinking behavior and indeed future adult drinking behavior. Foxcroft and
Lowe(1991), suggest that British parents, "are for the most part ambivalent about underage drinking and
about occasional intoxication” This is a controversial statement that may not be true in all cases. Alcohol
is however, the most widely used recreational drug in our society and it is the accepted norm that the
transition from adolescence to adulthood will include experimentation with alcohol.
There is evidence that where the levels of family support and control are low, then there is a
higher incidence of adolescence alcohol abuse and misuse. (Foxcroft and Lowe,1991). Teenagers may
justify their behavior by comparing the similarities to the parents attitudes and behavior.
Heavy drinking parents have been associated to adolescence alcohol misuse (Barnes and
Welte,1986). This highlights the important link between parental behavior and their offspring. There is
conflicting evidence in this field of research. Schuckit(1984) found those non-alcoholic sons of alcoholic
parents showed a greater tolerance for alcohol than matched controls. Is it then surprising that the media
has a drastic effect on the alcohol behavior of our youth? Much research has investigated the
effects of advertising of alcohol on teenagers. Atkin et al(1988), discovered that under age drinkers were
particularly appreciative and aware of alcohol commercials, thus suggesting that that advertising can
reinforce adolescent drinking.
Restrictions on the advertising of alcohol in this country are very lenient. A child of any age can
watch a family viewing film at the cinema that begins with the advertising of alcoholic beverages. Sweden
has actively shown that the prohibition of alcohol advertising has resulted in a decline of alcohol sales and
alcohol related problems among teenagers. Hastings et al (1992), investigated the success of alcohol
advertising and concluded that, "alcohol advertising is getting through to children". They suggest that the
controls are not enough, as evidence shows that tobacco advertising continues to influence young
peoples smoking habits despite the restrictions.
Questions can then be raised, as to whether there is a need to totally ban advertising on alcohol.
Such legislation would of course have a drastic effect on the drinks industry and therefore on the
taxable income of these products. The issue of health verses the economy of any country is a continual
political debate and without public pressure the economy is more likely to win. Arguments would arise
highlighting other influences on adolescent drinking behavior, notably parental and peers influences.
Sweet designer alcoholic beverages are now becoming very popular and fashionable. There is the
argument that the alcohol industry are actually marketing such products directly to the youth
culture. McKeganey(1996), found that sweet and fruity alcoholic drinks were indeed more popular
amongst school children in Dundee than other alcoholic beverages. These drinks often carry bright,
Colorful cartoon and childlike images that are associated with advertising products to children and
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