The consumption of alcohol among young people in Europe has risen during the past years. Several studies indicate that one quarter to one third of all adolescents drink alcohol. Not only the number of young people drinking alcohol is growing; problematic drinking (e.g. drunkenness and binge drinking) is an issue of growing importance. The use of alcohol especially increased among 12 to 14 year olds.
This research project (Effective Environmental Strategies for the Prevention of Alcohol Abuse among Adolescents in Europe) is built upon a previous survey of self reported delinquency and substance (ab)use among young people in 30 countries. This project will be restricted to 25 European countries. The project aims to study the different possible effective strategies for the prevention of alcohol abuse among adolescents in different European countries. It will analyse existing environmental strategies at different governance levels and confront these with outcomes of a study identifying and analysing risk factors which influence the initiation of alcohol use among young people in Europe. The (intermediate) outcomes of the proposed study will be largely disseminated through regional seminars of experts and stakeholders in different European regions and through a web based prevention policy guideline.
General questions of the research project are:
Problematic alcohol consumption (e.g. drunkenness and binge drinking) among adolescents has risen over the last years, and the world’s highest alcohol consumption levels in this age group are found in the developed world, including Europe. Although for most teenagers it holds that adolescence is a phase of experimentation in the first place, alcohol use at too young an age is not without harm. Many studies acknowledge the acute and longer range health implications of this behavior, and the social and economic consequences that are accompanied with it.
Given these tendencies in alcohol use patterns among youngsters, and in order to develop effective interventions in public health, insight in the risk factors that constitute teenage alcohol use is imperative. We begin to know more about the relationship between risk factors and the development of alcohol and drug use. But health behavior of young people as well as health policy go beyond curative youth care and individual behavior. These are also population phenomena, not only individual affairs. So risk factors are present at different levels.
The importance of context and environment is hard to overestimate and strongly influences the behavior of people. In contemporary society, these contexts are more open and different than they were before. Consequently, it is important to incorporate this multilevel methodology, by assessing the role of micro-, meso- and macro-level variables. Understanding the structural, the cultural and behavioral causes that lie behind differences in substance use are essential for effective social policy.
The use of a cross-national perspective is an ideal way to incorporate this macro-level structural environment, as it allows to focus on differences in drinking patterns, cultures, policies and other country-specific particularities, while at the same time not neglecting the common ‘European’ characteristics.
This study uses data of the Second International Self-Report Delinquency Study (ISRD-2), a cross-national study on delinquency and substance use among students in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd year of secondary school in mainly (but not exclusively) European countries. A first aim of this study is to look at how alcohol and drug use patterns differ over the 25 European countries, to identify possible risk factors in different domains (psycho-individual, family, peers, neighborhood, school, economy, social welfare, culture, etc) and different levels (individual-level, school-level, country-level).
Risk factors that can explain variation in alcohol consumption between individuals on the one hand, and variation between countries at the other hand. For this latter purpose, the project has constructed a dataset with national indicators of structural variables on a variety of social, cultural, economic, demographic and health issues and of indicators on policy and laws toward alcohol and drug in these countries.
Additionally, the project aims to inventory programs that are set out to combat (problematic) alcohol and drug use in these countries, concentrating specifically on those that have been evaluated as effective. A second aim of the project is to confront these policy initiatives on alcohol and drugs with the empirical results regarding the relationship between micro-, meso- and macro-level risk factors at the other hand and the observed differences in patterns of alcohol and drug use on the other hand. This will provide us with more information about what policy recommendations can be made regarding the prevention of early adolescents’ alcohol and drug use.
That is, which prevention programs are expected to be most effective in combating underage drinking and drug use and the risk factors that are associate with it. Finally, a web-based knowledge monitor will be developed, in which visitors (individuals, organizations) share and further expand their knowledge about effective instruments for prevention of alcohol and drug use of young people.