A recent study has shed new light on young people’s propensity for drug and alcohol addiction. Two factors affected their likelihood of substance abuse: happiness and awareness of their risks. We explore the findings here.
A recent study has found that young people who are made aware of the dangers of alcohol are less likely to drink. This reaffirms the need to educate young people about their potential risk for addiction, and to intervene at the first signs of substance abuse.
Interestingly, the University College London researchers found that awareness wasn’t the only deterrent to alcohol and tobacco use – happiness also plays a big role. A young person’s overall sense of well-being correlates highly to avoiding alcohol and tobacco.
Addiction Risks in Young People
In order to make these assessments, researchers used data collected from more than 1,700 young people aged 10 to 15. Surveys were conducted at two different time points, and the participants were divided into four different categories:
- Persistent non users (i.e. not using alcohol at either time point in the survey)
- Ex-users (i.e. using alcohol at the first time point, but not at the second)
- Initiated users (i.e. not using at the first time point, but starting before the second)
- Persistent users
According to the survey respondents, around 8 per cent of the surveyed youth were ex-substance users, and another 13 per cent had initiated use by the time of the second survey. The youngest people in the survey (aged 10 to 12) were more likely to fall in the persistent non-use group, while those over 13 years of age were more likely to be initiated or persistent users.
Participants were asked to rate the risk of drinking various types of alcohol. For example, they were asked about the risks associated with occasional drinking and heavy weekend drinking. These risks were reported on a scale of one (no risk) to four (great risk).
The respondents’ happiness was also evaluated through the data. Researchers looked at six key areas:
- Life in general
- School performance
The young people who participated in the survey were asked to rate their satisfaction on each of the above on a scale of one (very happy) to seven (unhappy). It’s difficult to quantify and rate happiness in survey subjects, but this form of self-reporting is still useful for researchers. It allows them to make connections between education, lifestyle habits and overall life satisfaction.
What Makes Some Young People Less Likely to Abuse Substances
With this range of data available, researchers were able to assess how awareness of the risks of drinking correlated to their actual use patterns. Two key findings emerged:
Young people whose responses indicated a strong awareness of the risks of drinking and smoking were statistically more likely to be persistent non-users. They neither didn’t drink at either of the times they were surveyed.
The same could be said of respondents who reported higher levels of satisfaction across the six criteria measured. This is a particularly important finding for parents, educators and anyone else invested in the health and livelihood of young people. In addition to educating young people about the risks of tobacco and alcohol use, it appears that promoting their overall happiness can also serve as a strong deterrent against these behaviours.
Interestingly, the study’s author Dr Noriko Cable, had this to say about the findings:
‘Having supportive friends did not protect adolescents from using alcohol or cigarettes.’
Dr Cable’s last comment is particularly telling. It’s not enough to encourage young people to foster supportive relationships with other non-users. We must work to create more supportive environments for teenagers – environments that promote happiness and include risk-awareness programmes.
Intervening Early in Teen Drug and Alcohol Use
Other research has shown us that young people already have a skewed perception of risk. Our sister facility, The Edge rehab centre in Chiang Mai, has covered this topic extensively on their blog. In particular, researchers have found that teens are more likely to take greater risks when the outcome is unknown. Another way of framing this is that young people are more accepting of unclear consequences.
If they are generally aware that a particular behaviour is dangerous, but aren’t sure of the specifics of those dangers, a teen may be more likely to take the risk. This finding coincides nicely with that of the above study. Telling a young person that drinking and drugging are risky behaviours may not be enough to curb such behaviour. But educating them about the outcomes of those behaviours – so that they are no longer unknown – could be more effective in encouraging young people to abstain from using substances altogether.
Better Support Could Save Young People from Addiction
Young people – and young men in particular – have a pronounced risk of becoming addicted to alcohol and other substances. Instituting awareness programmes and schools and local communities is a key way to accomplish this. Likewise, improving living conditions and quality of life so that young people derive greater happiness and satisfaction can also be effective.
But there are always situations in which young people are exposed to these risks despite our best efforts. This makes early intervention all the more important. If a young person you care about is struggling with addiction, it’s crucial to get them into a professionally run rehab programme as soon as possible. Contact The Cabin Dhaka today to find out more about how we can help.
Addiction is a particularly pressing issue for young men in Bangladesh, and there are programmes that have been specifically designed to assist them. Our sister facility, The Edge, offers tailored residential treatment in Northern Thailand for young men aged 18 to 28. The programme provides physical training with group and one-on-one therapy and has proven success rates. Learn more about The Edge here.