Alcohol consumption represents a serious public health problem on a global scale. The World Health Organization has warned about the dangers associated with excessive alcohol consumption : damage to health , increased risk behaviors, mental health problems and violence. Abundant data show that alcohol is one of the leading risk factors for disease and premature death.
If we talk about risk patterns, episodic excessive alcohol consumption involving large amounts (approximately more than 5 BUs = 60 g/cc of pure alcohol) on a single occasion or for a short period of time (3 to 4 hours) has received special attention by its prevalence and consequences among young people.
This pattern continues to escalate alarmingly among adolescents (approximately 12 to 18 years old), registering an increasingly earlier age of onset and an increase in intake in women (the gap with men narrowing).
More than half of adolescents
Currently, more than half of adolescents in school in Argentina (whether male or female) consume alcohol, a proportion that reaches almost 80% from the age of 17.
On the other hand, half of the children or adolescents who consume alcohol episodicly. Excessive episodic consumption at this vital stage is associated with an increased risk of injury, legal problems, risk behaviors (unprotected sex, reckless driving, violent fights, etc.), negative emotional states (anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, etc. .) and school problems (low performance, desertion, etc.).
Given the obvious harm caused by alcohol: why do most young people opt for this practice, which dominates the night scenes on weekends? What is the meaning that young people give to consumption?
Source of fun and socialization
Alcohol consumption is a socially naturalized practice and, among adolescents, frequently encouraged and encouraged by the peer group. Ingestion thus acquires its meanings in a context of shared meanings.
From the perception of young people , fun in a social context is pointed out as one of the strongest reasons to consume. Alcohol is associated with clearing, relaxing, losing inhibitions and “disconnecting” (from obligations and routine).
But also to meet others, the possibility of meeting new friends and belonging or “not being left out” . In short, alcohol makes sense insofar as it is viewed as a source of entertainment and a vehicle for socialization. Are there other alternatives available to reduce the risks associated with alcohol?
There are alternative ways of enjoying and meeting others that are not mediated by alcohol and that can be encouraged. Recent studies show that the positive feelings and experiences generated by some activities have effects on personal well-being, are closely related to happiness and personal fulfillment, and have a significant impact on psychophysical health.
Many young people choose to play sports as a recreational activity. For decades, sport has been pointed out as a protective factor against alcohol consumption.
But different research groups have found that it is not sport per se that protects against consumption (since adolescent athletes also consume in a risky way, as much as non-athletes), but rather it is the experiences of enjoyment, commitment and personal fulfillment generated by this activity which are associated with lower consumption. In other words, positive experiences through sport can function as a protective factor against alcohol consumption.
Other activities capable of generating positive experiences of commitment and deep enjoyment also function as factors that promote positive development and lower alcohol consumption.
Likewise, the role that adults play in favoring (or hindering) the experiences that adolescents have in their daily activities is undeniable. Those who practice sports maintain daily social relationships with their teachers and coaches, who influence their experience through behaviors, values and attitudes that they transmit with their teaching philosophy.
What these adults do and say, how they organize and communicate, and when and how they reward or provide a meaningful response after an appropriate action or mistake influences not only performance but also their experiences of fun or stress. in the probability of abandoning or continuing in the sport and in motivational aspects that constitute factors of prevention of alcohol consumption.
In short, the positive experiences through recreational activities that they develop with peers and with adult driving play an important role in the lives of adolescents. Feeling involved and committed to an activity, even when its development implies effort and dedication, generates important consequences for the emotional and interpersonal life of adolescents.
What road is left for us to travel?
Parents, educators and health professionals have an important role and we must promote activities that facilitate positive experiences, propose challenges and, in turn, distort and question consumption itself.
On the other hand, the game, access to recreational activities and leisure spaces are a right of children and adolescents. Public policies must take these results into account and promote and care for recreational and leisure spaces, promoters of mental health for the entire population, but especially for children and adolescents.
The path is not easy and implies a genuine commitment from all of society and state policies to generate the conditions that facilitate access and opportunity for activities that promote committed and meaningful lives for our adolescents.
Author Bios: Vanina Schmidt is a member of the Independent Researcher National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), Regular Associate Professor Faculty of Psychology UBA, Regular Professor Faculty of Psychology UAI – Area of Specialization: Developmental Psychology and Maria Julia Raymondi who is a Professor-Researcher in Sports Psychology and Positive Adolescent Development both at the University of Buenos Aires