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Battle on teen drunks failing warns expert

Young people get drunk to bond with their social group, and alcohol awareness campaigns are failing to address this aspect, an academic said today.

Teenagers regard their ability to drink excessive amounts of alcohol as a mark of "personal esteem" among their friends and for many it is key to being accepted as part of a social group.

The professor, who is now questioning the rationale of various health campaigns aimed at getting young people to drink less, said she carried out detailed research into the reasons for young people drinking, including extensive interviews.

She said campaigns targeting the availability of cheap drink, such as in off-licences or supermarkets, would not tackle young people's drinking habits alone.

"Extreme inebriation is often seen as a source of personal esteem and social affirmation amongst young people," Prof Griffin said.

"Our detailed research interviews reveal that tales of alcohol-related mishaps and escapades are key markers of young peoples' social identity."



Implications

In 2007 Prof Griffin led research for the UK's Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) that suggested a radical rethinking of alcohol policy was required to take into account the social character of alcohol consumption and the identity implications for young people.

Prof Griffin spoke out ahead of a presentation she is making at a psychologists' conference.

She is reporting on the findings from the ESRC-funded study of intensive research with young drinkers in both urban and semi-rural or small-town areas.

Prof Griffin said: "In this presentation I will argue that the 'culture of intoxication' has become a normalised and all-but-compulsory aspect of many young people's social lives.

"Getting very drunk with friends often insulates young people from viewing their level of alcohol consumption as a potential problem, deepening bonds of friendship and cementing group membership.

"Campaigns that aim to change young people's drinking habits need to take the social importance of drinking into account, as well as the pervasive availability of 'cheap deals' on alcohol."


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