Telling all teenagers to stop drinking in exactly the same way -
Stop Drinking or Else!
- is about as effective as using the same pickup line on girls at some Joe's bar vs. the Four Seasons lounge.
So five researchers at Pennsylvania State University set out to pinpoint the exact reasons teens drink.
Analyzing detailed responses to questionnaires from more than 2,500 high school seniors in a 2004 national survey, they found four main clusters based on what motivated them to drink. (Just 18 percent said they didn't.)
They dubbed the biggest group The Experimenters - kids who wanted to see what it was all about. Girls were more likely than boys to show up in this group, whose members showed fewer behavioral problems than the others.
Also popular were The Thrill-Seekers. Among their motivations: "to have a good time" and "to get high." Boys were overrepresented.
A third group was The Relaxers.
The fourth group drank for all the above reasons, and then some. These Multi-Reasoners said they drank for any combination of reasons: to relax, experiment, have fun, escape problems, get high, reduce anger or frustration, even because they enjoyed the taste.
With so many reasons to turn to alcohol, The Multi-Reasoners were most likely to start younger, drink during the day, and get drunk.
Armed with these findings, said Donna Coffman, lead author of the study in the December issue of Prevention Science, counselors can better target their interventions. Boys who reported drinking before 4 p.m., for example, were eight times more likely to show up in the highest-risk group than in the lowest. So those who need help the most should now be easier to identify.
- Colleen Dunn