OBJECTIVES: Few contemporary studies have examined peer and social drivers of alcohol use during mid-adolescence. We sought to explore young people's perspectives on socio-cultural influences relating to alcohol use behaviour during this period.
DESIGN: Qualitative research study.
METHODS: Semi-structured one-to-one (n=25), paired (n=4) or triad (n=1) interviews and one focus group (n=6) were conducted with 30 young people aged 14 to 15 (13 males, 17 females) recruited from 4 schools, and 12 participants (aged 14 to 18, 8 males, 4 females) recruited from two youth groups in an urban centre in the West of England. Nineteen participants abstained from alcohol use, 9 were occasional or moderate drinkers and 14 drank alcohol more regularly. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim and analysed thematically using NVivo V.10, through a lens of social influence and social norms theories.
RESULTS: Alcohol consumption was associated with being cool, mature and popular, while enabling escape from reality and boosting confidence and enjoyment. Positive expectancies, alongside opportunity, contributed to motivating initiation, but social influences were paramount, with participants describing a need to 'fit in' with friends to avoid social exclusion. Such influences positioned drinking at parties as a normative social practice, providing opportunities for social learning and the strengthening of peer norms. Social media presented young people with positive alcohol-associated depictions of social status, enjoyment and maturity. This intersection of influences and norms generated a pressurised environment and a sense of unease around resisting pressures, which could elicit stigmatising insults.
CONCLUSIONS: Cultural norms, social influences and social media intersect to create a pressurised environment around alcohol use during mid-adolescence, driving the escalation in the prevalence of excessive consumption at this stage. New interventions need to address normative influences to enable the prevention of excessive alcohol use during adolescence.
- Social norms