PRC Resources

Where different teens drink alcohol: Risky and underage drinking contexts

Underage drinking is illegal and potentially dangerous. A recent study provides a more detailed understanding of the selection of drinking contexts by underage drinkers and how it changes over time. The study, carried out by the Prevention Research Center of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, is based on annual surveys of teens in 50 mid-sized California cities. Results show that the places where these teens drink are related to personal characteristics such as their age and gender, patterns of alcohol use, and other risky behaviors they engage in.

Participants in the study included 665 young people who were 13-16 years of age at the beginning of the study and who reported that they had used alcohol at some time during the past year during at least one wave of the survey. The researchers followed these teens over three years.

The places in which the respondents reported drinking changed as they got older, with younger teens more likely to drink in outdoor, probably unsupervised settings, such as parking lots and street corners, while older teens more frequently drank at parties or someone else’s home. Each additional year was associated with a 38% increase in number of times they drank at parties and a 21% increase in the number of times they drank at someone else’s home. Also, the likelihood of youth drinking at parking lots or street corners was reduced by about 20% in each additional year.

The researchers measured the level of deviant behaviors among the respondents by questions about behaviors such as vandalism, shoplifting, and truancy. The likelihood of drinking at own home, beaches or parks, and restaurants/bars/nightclubs changed more rapidly among deviant drinkers. Past-year cigarette smoking was also positively associated with drinking alcohol at someone else’s home and at beaches or parks.

Girls reported drinking at school events nearly 75% more than boys. They also reported drinking in parking lots or street corners 37% more than boys.

Understanding where different teens drink can be useful in designing context-based prevention and intervention tools for this population. For example, interventions can be created with the goal of targeting and informing female students about risks associated with drinking at school events or targeting heavy drinking youths at outdoor places.

Lipperman-Kreda, S.; Mair, C.F.; Bersamin, M.; Gruenewald, P.J.; and Grube, J.W. "Who drinks where: Youth selection of drinking contexts," Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 39(4):716-723, 2015. doi: 10.1111/acer.12670. PMCID: PMC4383691