Aggressive adolescents consuming more alcohol
Adolescents who behave aggressively are likely to drink more alcohol than their peers – while those suffering from depression or anxiety drink less.
A new Finnish study carried out among 4074 13- to 18-year-olds has found that sixty per cent of study participants reported using alcohol. Even among 15-year-olds, more than half reported they used alcohol. The researchers did not find any significant differences in alcohol use between boys and girls.
The goal of the study was to examine the association between psychosocial problems and alcohol use.
Exceeding risk levels
Several of the study’s findings proved surprising, particularly levels of alcohol consumption, according to Professor Eila Laukkanen, Chief Physician of Adolescent Psychiatry at Kuopio University Hospital, University of Eastern Finland. She was part of the project team which also included researchers from the University of Tampere and Päijät-Häme Central Hospital.
The proportion of adolescents who use alcohol has not grown in comparison to earlier studies, but many adolescents consume large amounts of alcohol - even exceeding risk levels, acccording to the researchers.
Alcohol use that begins early in adolescence can be detrimental to brain development and increase the probability of alcohol dependence and mental health problems.
Link between drinking and aggressivity
The study revealed a link between drinking and aggressivity.
“Aggressive behaviour was associated with alcohol use and a high level of alcohol consumption, while internalizing problems did not associate with alcohol use,” the researchers state in their report. ‘Internalizing problems’ means that an individual reacts in an introverted way, such as with depression or anxiety.
"The aggressivity is not expressed as brute violence, but in other ways, such as quarrelling, harasssment or rule-breaking,” Professor Laukkanen is quoted as saying in a press release.
But although a link has been proven, it does not explain cause and effect, she said.
”We don’t know from the findings whether increased alcohol consumption leads to aggressive behaviour, or whether behavioural problems lead to increased consumption,” she said.
More aggressive girls than boys
An unusual finding from the study is that aggressive behaviour is more common amongst girls than boys.
“The findings highlight the issue of possible behavioural change amongst adolescent girls, and vulnerability in terms of social and emotional development,” says Laukkanen.
Other factors increasing the probability of alcohol use included smoking and attention problems. For girls there were the additional factors of early menarche (first menstruation) or divorced parents.
Popular teenagers drink more
The findings showed that adolescents with a large social network in general drink more heavily than those who have fewer friends. This confirms previous research on the effect of peer pressure, and drinking as a means of increasing status and popularity. Teenagers who had problems with social relationships, on the other hand, were more likely to practice abstinence and lower alcohol consumption.
The next step will be to study the effect of these trends in alcohol consumption.
”Our next study will examine the impact of heavy drinking on the brain,” says Laukkanen.
Read the Norwegian version of this article at forskning.no
- Alcohol use among adolescents, aggressive behaviour, and internalizing problems, Journal of Adolescence, 37:6, August 2014, DOI: 10.1016/j.adolescence.2014.06.011