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Preventive measures for alcohol use should target specific groups of adolescents

16 September 2014

Parenting, self-control, aggressive behaviour, alcohol use by friends and various socio-demographic factors can be used to predict alcohol use among young people. The results of a study conducted by psychologist Leenke Visser from the University Medical Center Groningen clearly indicate the groups that preventive measures should be targeting. Visser will be awarded a PhD on 22 September 2014 by the University of Groningen. Her research is part of the TRAILS study, which has been tracking the health of children towards adulthood since 2001.

Over the last decade, drinking alcohol has become one the most common forms of high-risk behaviour among adolescents and a major social health problem. A link has already been established between alcohol and various other problems, and so it is important to identify the adolescents most at risk and use this as a starting point for targeted preventive measures and policy. The main aim of Visser’s thesis was to work out which factors will predict whether an adolescent will use alcohol.

In her research, Visser tried to identify factors that would predict early alcohol use. Early alcohol use is defined as repeated consumption of alcohol between 10 and 14 years of age. Only a limited number of factors appear to predict early alcohol use, namely the level of education of the father (low or average), ethnicity (native Dutch), gender (male) and aggressive behaviour reported by a teacher.

Parental overprotection

Visser’s study also reveals that of the different styles of parenting, parental overprotection is most likely to result in regular alcohol consumption in 16-17 year-olds. Although the link is precarious, adolescents with overprotective parents appear to be at greater risk of becoming regular drinkers. According to Visser, conflicts arise between adolescents and overprotective parents as the adolescent tries to assert his/her independence. This in turn leads to alcohol use. Some parents adopt a particular style of parenting when they see certain behaviour or personality traits in a child. Visser would like to see more attention paid to adolescents with overprotective parents.

The research carried out by Visser shows that alcohol consumption by peers during adolescence increases the risk of alcohol use and abuse among young adults. A low level of self-control also increases the risk that young adults will abuse alcohol. Visser thinks that helping adolescents to withstand peer pressure and reinforcing their self-control should be separate aims when trying to prevent alcohol use and abuse.

Visser also examined the incidence of 8 behavioural health risk factors: a diet without regular fruit and vegetables, skipping breakfast, being overweight or obese, physical inactivity, smoking, using alcohol and drugs. She measured these factors in adolescents at 12-14 years of age and again at 16-17 years. According to her figures, the factors are stable during adolescence. All behavioural health risk factors, with the exception of alcohol and drug use, appear to predict the co-occurrence of health risk behaviours during later adolescence. Finally, adolescents with little self-control from low socio-economic backgrounds, with mothers who smoke, have a higher risk of developing one or more behavioural health risk factors, making them an important target group for preventive measures.

Visser’s research is part of the TRAILS study (TRacking Adolescents’ Individual Lives Survey). TRAILS is a large-scale prospective cohort study of the mental, social and physical development of children towards adulthood. The TRAILS study started in 2001 when the children were 10-12 years old.

Curriculum Vitae

L. Visser (Drachten, 1980) studied psychology at the University of Groningen. She carried out her research in the department of Social Medicine of the UMCG. Her thesis is entitled: ‘Early detection and prevention of adolescent alcohol use. Parenting and psychosocial factors’. She is a lecturer and researcher at Hanze University of Applied Sciences.

Last modified:12 March 2020 9.49 p.m.
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