The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Friday, May 29, 2015 (Volume 4: Issue: 18)

The Topic: Preventing Underage Drinking

The News Story: Fresno County Billboard Campaign Against Underage Drinking Revealed 

The New Research: Broken Homes, Boozing Teens

 

The News Story: Fresno County Billboard Campaign Against Underage Drinking Revealed

Some Fresno teens are taking the battle against underage drinking to the streets with a new billboard campaign, reports a local Fresno TV station.

The billboard features images of teens pursuing their dreams—in graduation gowns, a chef’s uniform, or workout gear—coupled with the slogan “#mysoberswag.” The campaign, organized by Fresno County Friday Night Live youth leaders, is “designed to encourage . . . peers to remain sober during graduation season.” “Alcohol is the most widely abused substance among teens,” the story reports, with 14 percent of 10th graders and 28 percent of 12th graders nationally reporting at least one instance of intoxication in the last month.

But as laudable as such efforts are, they are only a band-aid to a problem that runs much deeper.

(Source: “Fresno County Billboard Campaign Against Underage Drinking Revealed,”

ABC30 Action News, KFSN-TV, May 27, 2015.)

 

The New Research: Broken Homes, Boozing Teens 

In both the United States and Europe, public-health officials worry about the abuse of alcohol among adolescents. Those who read a new study of the problem in Europe may suspect that such abuse is all too often a pathetic self-medication by teens desperate to alleviate the pains of family disintegration. 

The authors of this new study come from a wide range of institutions, including Columbia University in the United States, the Université de Lorraine in France, the University of Oviedo in Spain, Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, and Tel Aviv University in Israel. Together this international team of scholars confront the problem of adolescent consumption of alcohol, a problem they characterize as “among the core risk behaviours among adolescents.” Underage drinking is particularly worrisome because it “makes adolescents vulnerable to the occurrence of maladaptive behaviour, delinquency, violence, accidents, emotional instability, depression, social exclusion and suicide.” And because it is “deleterious to adolescent mental health and safety,” underage drinking creates “a substantial economic burden to governments.” 

To identify those social contexts conducive to adolescent use of alcohol, the researchers parse data on risk behaviors in Austria, Estonia, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Romania, Slovenia and Spain. These data indicate that family structure powerfully affects adolescents’ vulnerability to the temptation of alcohol use. “Living in a family with both birth parents,” conclude the researchers,” is a protective factor against alcohol consumption in adolescence—adolescents from single-parent families and step-parent families tend to drink more than adolescents from both-parent families.”   

The protective effect of an intact family shows up whether the researchers are looking at the frequency of drinking, the amount consumed, or the frequency with which adolescents actually become drunk. Clearly, a striking gap in drinking behavior separates adolescents in intact families from peers in both single-parent and step-families. In contrast, the researchers find “no statistically significant differences between single-parent families and step-parent families regarding adolescents’ drinking patterns.”

Given the trends in family life on both sides of the Atlantic, those who run alcohol rehabilitation centers can expect to be amply employed in the decades ahead. 

(Source: Forthcoming in New Research, The Family in America. Study: Erik Rüütel et al., “Alcohol Consumption Patterns among Adolescents Are Related to Family Structure and Exposure to Drunkenness within the Family: Results from the SEYLE Project,” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 11.12 [2014]: 12700-12715.)