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Research Study into the Causes of Youth Binge Drinking

Info: 5463 words (22 pages) Dissertation
Published: 12th Dec 2019

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Tagged: HealthYoung People

What are the causes of ‘binge drinking’ amongst youngsters


The meaning of ‘binge drinking’ has been questioned considerably; there is no one such definition as it is seen to be too broad and complex. A broad definition that could be used however would be drinking too much alcohol at once or over the recommended daily units, which according to the NHS is no more than 4 units for men and no more than 3 for women. The consumption of alcohol in the UK is on the increase especially amongst youngsters, which has lead to great concern.

This dissertation explores a range of issues that aimed to find out the main factors that causes youngsters aged 16-24 to ‘binge drink.’ This was done by taking a qualitative and quantitative approach in the form of a questionnaire which included 24 questions with regards to the consumption of alcohol. These were paper based questionnaires as well as online based questionnaires which were given to a sample of 60 students to complete. Results showed that there are a number of factors which cause youngsters to consume alcohol. One of the main reasons for the consumption was due to the social aspect. Drinking alcohol is seen as a ‘normal’ thing to do when socialising with peers, therefore this could lead to binge drinking. Other factors include peer pressure, stress release, enjoyment and confidence booster. However, findings show that the topic is more complex than this; therefore further research and investigation would need to be undertaken to fully grasp the issues underlying this subject matter.


Significance of the issue

The United Kingdom is considered to have one of the most problematic affairs with alcohol due to drinking patterns and styles that have developed over the past century. While numerous other western European countries, such as Spain and France, have seen a decline in overall alcohol consumption, the United Kingdom’s overall consumption is on the increase. Greater concern is amongst those aged 16-24 years who are primarily associated with ‘binge drinking.’ As levels of drinking have increased so has the cause for concern due to social and health consequences, with 30% of men and 25% of women drinking more than the recommended intake. (Paton 2005, p.1)

Young people in particular are drinking larger amounts of alcohol over shorter periods of time. The recommended limits of alcohol per session (according to the NHS) should be no more than 3-4 units for men and 2-3 units for women. In 1990, the average amount of alcohol drunk by 11-15 year olds as a whole was 0.8 units in a typical week, rising to 1.6 units in 1998 (Goddard and Higgins 1999). Among those youngsters who do drink, the average of 5.3 units in 1990 increased to 10.5 units in 2002 (Boreham and McManus 2003) which is almost double the amount drunk twelve years previously. Those aged 16-24 in the UK are more likely to binge drink with 36% of men and 27% of women reportedly binge drinking in 2002 at least once a week (Office for National Statistics).

These s show potential dangers and risks for youngsters in many ways. A chief example of these risks and dangers would be physical health. Research has suggested that excessive alcohol consumption can lead youngsters to experience many problems, the main symptoms being breathing problems, leading to coma and inhalation of vomit (Lamminpaa 1995). Other dangers of physical health would be through the damage of the organs, mainly the liver, brain and heart (Tuttle, Mazurek, Loveland-Cherry, 2002).

Other risk factors affecting youngsters as a result of high alcohol consumption would be the risk of accident and injuries, as they have limited experience in the effects of drinking alcohol and regularly consume alcohol in high risk areas without adult supervision (Newburn and Shiner 2003). These are just a few dangers and risks outlined that are associated with adolescent alcohol consumption, and the reason why the increase of alcohol consumption by young people is concerning, therefore the factors that affect alcohol consumption and what causes this to increase needs to be looked into further in order to avoid these dangers from increasing in the future.


The general aim of this dissertation is to explore what binge drinking is and to investigate the main factors and causes associated with high alcohol consumption amongst youngsters aged 16-24, looking at students in particular. The main objectives are to look at what binge drinking actually is, as there are many definitions and questions arisen as to what could be defined as ‘binge drinking.’ Also to look at the different causes of high alcohol consumption and an attempt to explain the how and why binge drinking affects youngsters in particular. Future recommendations will also be given, and an attempt will be made to investigate how much people actually know about binge drinking. In order to meet these aims and objectives, research will be conducted in the form of a questionnaire which will be handed out and undertaken around the University of Bradford and Bradford College, as well as posting the questionnaire online through a social networking site known as Facebook.

The questionnaire approach method was decided to be taken as this will help this study meet the aim and objectives in many ways; it will enable a detailed examination of the explicit problems that will be investigated, as a method of both qualitative and quantitative data collection. As described by Porter (2000) the differences between the two methods of data collection lie in their focus of analysis. Quantitative research focuses on the quantity i.e. numbers, which aim to identify the relationship between different events. Whereas qualitative research on the other hand is more concerned with the quality of data, focusing on words in the form of writing, this aims to search for the reason behind the actions. As the aim of this research is to investigate the main causes associated with binge drinking amongst youngsters, the questionnaire approach was seen to be more reliable than other methods of data collection as it gives the opportunity to collect both qualitative and quantitative forms of data, which as a result will help in the exploring, investigating and analysing process. Polit and Hungler (1999) stated that a quantitative approach is unsuitable for studying human behaviour, as it is reductionist in nature because it limits human experience to only a small amount of concepts. Therefore a number of questions will be asked in the questionnaire, both open ended and closed ended, in order to gather both quantitative and qualitative forms of data which will reduce reductionism. Questionnaires also provide the opportunity to be distributed to a much larger number of samples quite easily compared to other methods of data collection, and are a more common form of measuring attitudes and beliefs (Sim and Wright 2000). It was therefore decided that questionnaires would be distributed around the University of Bradford campus, the students union in particular, and Bradford College with the aim of gathering an insight into the factors affecting and influencing binge drinking among youngsters.

Overall approach

The overall approach to this dissertation will be a combination of a literature review and the questionnaire as primary research. The literature review will provide the theoretical background and foundations for the questionnaire that will be conducted, in addition to providing raw data on the history and context of youngsters in relation to alcohol.

After the literature review the primary research methodology will be presented, followed by the assessment and evaluation of the methodological issues. The subsequent chapter will then present the results and findings of the research in the form of qualitative data, as well as presenting quantitative data in the form of graphs and charts. There will then be an analysis chapter where the findings from this research will be correlated to the findings presented in the literature review, and both will be linked and analysed. The final chapter will then provide the conclusion and summing up, essentially in relation to the main aim and objectives of the research. Limitations of this research will also be presented here as well as recommendations for future research.

Literature review

There is a large amount of literature available on ‘binge drinking’ issues in relation to youngsters, and the factors that are associated with high alcohol consumption. There are many influences affecting young adults’ drinking behaviour such as gender, age, social class and religion, as well as social, personality and biological factors, and the physical availability and prices of alcohol beverages. Young adults’ heavy drinking is influenced mainly by social norms of the society, secondly by socialising and thirdly by modelling, which is seen as the perception of other people’s behaviour. According to Cooper (2000) young adults may value the social opportunities drinking situations offer to such a degree, that they be inclined to define drinking itself as a secondary activity to social interaction with other members (Cooper, 2000, p. 39-42).

In 1995 one of the first major investigations had taken place by the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and other Drugs (ESPAD). The study was conducted in the UK as well as 22 other European countries with a sample of 15-16 year old students. The main aim was to examine potentially risky behaviour in the use of smoking, illicit drugs and drinking amongst youngsters (Miller and Plant, 1996). Results showed that the UK was amongst those countries with the highest levels of profound drinking and drunkenness (Hibell et al., 1997).

A follow-up ESPAD study was undertaken four years later in 1999, which involved more than 90,000 students from 30 different countries, this being one of the largest major international studies of alcohol ever attempted. This report established that youngsters in the UK had remained in the same position as the earlier 1995 study, as having one of the highest levels of alcohol consumption from the 30 different countries that had taken part. As a result, youngsters from countries with the highest levels of intoxication (UK being one of them) were more likely to consume alcohol in heavy sessions and produce higher levels of episodic ‘binge drinking.’ Researchers found that these heavy sessions mainly occurred on weekends in the form of parties and ‘get-togethers.’ Youngsters also reported that they believed those who drink the most, enjoy the most so drinking alcohol had positive effects on them, even if this also results in unfavourable consequences i.e. ‘hangovers.’ One international study known as the GENACIS study, found that people are unsure about the effects caused by binge drinking, and are willing to acknowledge the negative experiences as the ‘price they pay for enjoying their drinking’ (Plant et al 2002). In conclusion, parents who teach their children to drink within the context of a controlled home environment, result in the children drinking less and with fewer problems than those who drink outside of their home environment under minimum supervision.

A study by E Webb, C. H. Ashton, P. Kelly, and F Kamali (1996) was conducted on university students from ten UK based universities, with a sample of 3075 second year university students. A questionnaire was distributed whilst scheduled lectures were taking place. Results showed that 61% of men and 48% of women exceeded the ‘sensible’ weekly limits. Binge drinking was reported by 31% of men and 24% of women. The main reason for drinking was pleasure, which was reported by 89% of men and 92% of women. Other factors included habit, to increase confidence, decrease anxiety/stress and social pleasure. The main findings by Webb et al. were that a considerable amount of university students are drinking above sensible recommended limits. This applies not just to university students, but has also been found amongst young people in general in the UK.

There are many perceptions of alcohol consumption, one of which is mainly the perception of becoming an adult. According to Plant and Plant (1992) alcohol has been regarded as an important rite of passage into adulthood for a number of years. Many participants have introduced alcohol into their social life as they believe it is an indicator of them becoming an adult. Alcohol consumption was traditionally associated with the males going to pubs and drinking beer (Lees 1986). It was also traditionally associated with a male’s ability to display masculinity (McDonald 1994). However, Honess et al (2000) stated that motivation for the consumption of alcohol amongst adolescents, are now more complex than imitating adult behaviour. Honess et al (2000) found another perception of alcohol consumption, which was as a means of releasing stress. Participants from the study perceived the consumption of alcohol as a way of relaxing after a stressful day at work for example.

Another major factor found to influence and cause alcohol consumption to increase is peer groups. Swadi (1999) stated that the influence of peers is a key motivation factor for adolescent alcohol consumption and their perception towards alcohol, as it is now becoming increasingly important for youngsters to gain a social status and develop an identity for themselves amongst their peer groups.

As well as peer groups, parents have shown to have an affect on young people’s attitudes towards alcohol too. Youngsters imitate the behaviour, alcohol consumption and perceptions of that of their own parents (Yu 2003). One respondent called Amy from the study by Yu (2003) for example, stated: ‘At 15, I didn’t really know anyone who drank, I perhaps might have had a glass of wine at Christmas or half a glass but that was it and my mum and dad didn’t really drink, we didn’t go to places where people were drinking’ comments like this from respondents from the study proved that the exposure of alcohol from parents has a major impact and influence on youngsters, as Amy wasn’t really exposed to alcohol much from a young age, she did not perceive drinking alcohol as a ‘normal’ thing to do therefore does not often take part in such activities and behaviour. As a result, the findings by Yu (2003) have been supported; who found that heavy drinking in adolescent offspring can be reduced and prevented within the home environment depending on that of their parents.

Paton (2005) also found that youngsters are more likely to become heavy drinkers themselves if they have a family history of alcohol misuse. He came up with three main factors that he stated influenced alcohol consumption: Genes, Family and Environmental factors. He claimed that the main influence on the risk of misusing alcohol was the family factor with 46%, secondly was genes with 36.5% then third most important are environmental factors with just 17.5%. He found that ‘alcoholism’ was more evident amongst identical twins and there was an increase of ‘alcoholism’ amongst men that were separated from their alcoholic parents after birth. The family factor also played a role in the influence according to Paton (2005). Results showed that up to 50% of heavy drinkers have a history of family alcohol misuse, this was characterised by starting to drink at a young age, addiction, chaotic drinking and antisocial behaviour. Paton (2005) also found that behavioural factors such as boredom, habit, low self-esteem, loneliness, anxiety and depression can also help promote the consumption of alcohol. He also claimed that drinking alcohol is determined by environmental factors such as culture, availability and price, individual’s needs, life events and circumstances. (Paton, Touquet, 2005, p.13).

There have been significant cultural influences on alcohol consumption as reported by Ledous, Miller, Choquet and Plant (2002), who looked at adolescent alcohol consumption of that of teenagers in the UK and France. Results showed that adolescents in the UK were more likely to have consumed alcohol six or more times in the past twenty days, than that of the adolescents in France. This demonstrates the difference in the drinking cultures amid different countries. A further study by Cameron (2000) looked into these cultural differences in an attempt to describe such contrasts. This was done by comparing the drinking cultures of Northern Europe countries to that of Southern Europe countries. Cameron (2000) found that countries in the northern region are seen to have ‘wet’ drinking cultures, in other words people in the northern region drink excessively in order to become drunk as a result of bringing about more alcohol into their daily lives and adhering to fewer government restrictions. This supports the idea that drinking to get drunk is seen as ‘normal’ behaviour to youngsters within the British culture.

The definitions of ‘binge drinking’ are broad in nature and have been questioned considerably. There is no one such definition to define binge drinking. Studies have shown that many respondents very rarely define binge drinking in accordance with the number of units actually being consumed. A 1997 report for the US based International Center for Alcohol Policies (ICAP) addressed the lack of formal definitions. Recent publications have defined binge drinking as drinking over half of the recommended number of units of alcohol in a week per session. These publications show that researchers tend to adopt the most general definition based on previous research conducted, with no such explanation or rationale for their stated definition. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) illustrates binge drinking as drinking eight or more units of alcohol at least one day in the week for men, and six or more units for women, this is in line with sensible drinking guidelines using daily standards, therefore could serve as an estimate of binge drinking, with the absence of a Department of Health (DoH) definition.

A longitudinal study carried out on high school students by Schulenberg et al (1996) found that 30% of the students had altered their drinking patterns during the conversion period of adolescence to adulthood. 20% of the students who classed themselves as binge drinkers had reduced their heavy drinking as they reached adulthood. However, 165 of the students had increased their binge drinking or had to some extent sustained a pattern of persistent binge drinking as they reached adulthood. Once adult roles are undertaken such as employment, marriage and parenthood, and then these patterns of drinking are shown to decrease and fade out. Also, unfavourable life events such as divorce are correlated with binge drinking, as statistics show that 29.6% of separated and divorced people were occupied in weekly binges, compared to that of only 17.9% of married people.

Primary Research Methodology

The general aim was to find out what causes youngsters (aged 16-24) to binge drink, this was tested through the use of a questionnaire design. The questionnaires consisted of twenty four questions in relation to drinking, along with a brief at the beginning of each of the questionnaires (see appendix 1) which provided the participants an explanation of the main purpose and context of the research, as well as outlining ethical considerations i.e. anonymity of the questionnaire which ensured the participants that their answers and identifications would remain anonymous and that they could withdraw from the research at any time. The questionnaires included both closed ended and open ended questions, this was to give the participants an opportunity to express their views in relation to the subject matter, and also provided the opportunity to gather quantitative as well as qualitative data to be collected and researched.

To ensure that the results were a true reflection of society, the right type of research methodology had to be selected. Questionnaires were primarily selected as it allowed the results to be gathered directly from the target audience. The questionnaires allowed the data to be collected in a structured way because the same questions were asked to all participants in exactly the same order. The inclusion of quantitative, closed ended questions ensured that the data was consistent because the respondents are limited to the answers that they could state, which also makes the interpretation of data simple. The inclusion of qualitative questions allows the respondent to express their own opinions and arguments which may not be covered in the closed questions.

After selecting the main research method it was then essential to target the correct audience. Any flaws at this stage could have led to the wrong type of group filling in the questionnaires which would result in incorrect data being gathered. For example, if the questionnaires were handed out in an elderly care home, the results would be of no use in this scenario as the main purpose of this dissertation is based around young adults aged 16-24. The questionnaires were handed out physically around the Students Union (SU) area at the University of Bradford and Bradford College over the period of three days, in addition to this a group was formed on Facebook, a social networking site which provided a link to the questionnaire which could be completed and submitted online by the general public. The students union was selected for the primary location as it is associated with the correct age group for this research and is also has strong links with alcohol consumption. Bradford College was chosen due to most students being aged within the 16-24 age category. Due to the high interactivity with the internet amongst young adults it was essential that this type of medium was also used to gather results. The internet is a very popular medium in this digital age which allows results to be gathered nationally therefore providing a better sample of results to base the dissertation on. Facebook allowed me to target specific individuals which ensured the validity and fairness of the results. Each respondent that joined this group on Facebook was provided with the essential information needed to give them an understanding of the main aims and objectives of the research, as well as give them information regarding ethical issues, such as anonymity. Once potential respondents were chosen via Facebook they were then invited to join a group specifically created for this dissertation which provided them with a link to the survey. The online survey creator which was specifically selected to provide the link for the online questionnaire (See appendix 3) was from the website ‘tigersurvey.com’. This was primarily chosen due to its ease of use and ensured questionnaires were submitted anonymously to override any privacy issues, it also gives an automatic calculation for each of the questions which would make the analysis process much easier (see appendix 4).

The questionnaires were given out to students in the month of January 2009 during the hours of 12-2pm. This slot was chosen due to the sheer number of students that are present on campus at this time due to lunchtime. The issue of timing is very important as it allows a wider audience to respond making the results accurate and more effective. The type of research conducted was close to a street survey in which participants are asked questions face to face in bustling environments. The only difference in this case was instead of asking participant’s questions directly they were given a paper based questionnaire, which overrides various issues such as verbal problems, accent problems, shyness and language barriers etc. The link for the online questionnaire was also created in the same month; however this was free to fill out at any time during the day.

The sampling method for a study is described as the process for selecting individuals from the population to be included in a research project (Hammersley and Mairs 2004). Rubenstein (1994) stated that there is no definite number of participants that should be used within a study however, other researchers such as Baum (2000) believed that a sample should consist of between twelve and twenty participants in order to obtain maximum variation in the findings, taking into consideration the actual nature of each study. A sample size of 60 students aged between 16-24 years were used for the research in order to achieve this maximum variation, these were a mixture of school, college and university students. The technique of random sampling was used, where each member of the public has an equal chance of being selected.

Before the questionnaires were distributed a pilot study was conducted in the previous week, this is a pre-testing stage which gives the opportunity to identify and correct any misleading, unclear or double barrelled questions. The respondents from the pilot study were debriefed to determine whether the questions asked were confusing or misleading in any way or another, and to receive initial feedback in general about the questionnaire. After receiving the feedback some of the questions had to be reworked to ensure that they were understood by all participants and allowed the questions to be answered correctly. The advantage of doing a pilot study includes reduced costs (paper), reduced time, and ensures correct method and effectiveness. If a pilot study was not conducted before a full scale research it could result in falsifying responses from respondents leading to inaccurate results being collected.

Ethical Issues

It is vital to protect human rights when conducting research involving human beings (Polit and Hungler 1997). Sim and Wright (2000) outlined three ways in which a research question must be ethical:

1. Methods that could possibly threaten the welfare of participants should not be incorporated

2. If the findings of a research are seen to be detrimental of certain individuals in any way, then it should not be continued

3. Certain groups of the population should not be consistently excluded in research

Ethical considerations are important in helping researchers to decide whether an investigation or field of study is ethically acceptable, and decide whether it should be continued or not. Ethical issues in relation to research are now mostly considered with research involving human beings. Some examples of these researchers are Moody (1990), Polit and Hungler (1991), Brown (1993). Most ethical guidelines were initiated due to research that was undertaken during the Second World War. Some of the ethical guidelines are as follows:

Ø Anonymity and Confidentiality

Participants may want information about themselves, their views and attitudes to be kept private; they have the right to privacy. As Brown (1993) stated:

‘Control of personal information is viewed as an expression of autonomy and as an individual’s right to protect his or her social vulnerability and identity.’

To ensure that this guideline is met, the participant’s data should be used in such a way that only the researcher knows who provided the information. In some cases however, even the researcher need not know of the source. This applied to my research, as participants were selected randomly around the university and college and were told that the questionnaires would remain anonymous as no name or contact information would be taken from them. In addition, the questionnaires submitted online via Facebook, were also submitted anonymously and the answers provided were kept confidential.

Ø Informed consent

Informed consent is difficult to define and it is difficult to know whether someone has given informed consent or not. Informed consent gives the right of every individual when taking part in research, so can not be ignored (Couchman and Dawson 1990). It is vital that sufficient information is given in order for an individual to decide whether he/she wish to take part in the research (Polit and Hungler 1991) this decision is voluntary and relies on the individual themselves. Participants are more likely to take part in research if they think it is of benefit, or has positive consequences for themselves or society in general in the long run, this is also known as consequentialism. Informed consent was given by the participants in this research after being told about the main aims and purpose of research, this was done verbally and was also stated on the brief supplied along with the questionnaire, which gave participants the right to withdraw from the research at any time. Participants also gave their consent to participate via the online questionnaire, as they weren’t forced into completing this and could also withdraw at any time.

Ø Deception

If participants are deceived in any way, then researchers will suffer from a lack of trustworthiness, so it is imperative that they are not. However, some researchers state that deception must be present in some cases in order to receive valid and reliable data (Gans, 1962; Douglas, 1979). This was not the case in this research as participants were given a full explanation for the purpose of this research, so they were not deceived in any way.

Ø Cultural variations

It is important to understand that cultural differences may exist in ethical acceptability of research. Conflicts and problems may arise when the researchers are from a different culture to that of their participants. The ethical guidelines of cultural variations do not relate to this particular research, as participants are from the same culture i.e. UK, Bradford university, college and school students to be precise.

Looking at these ethical issues, it can be said that this research is ethically sound as all forms of the ethical guidelines have been met and not broken in any way.

Methodological issues

The research method employed within this study is a questionnaire, both paper based (appendix 1) and online based (appendix 3). There are many advantages as well as disadvantages for using this type of survey method. Below the two distribution methods have been separated and the issues concerning both have been examined separately.

Paper Based Questionnaire

There are many advantages of using a paper based questionnaire, one of which is anonymity which allows the questionnaire to be analysed and examined without bias input from the researcher. Berdie, Anderson and Niebuhr (1986) stated that ‘an anonymous study is one which nobody (not even the study directors) can identify who provided data on completed questionnaires.’ People are also more likely to participate in research if they know that their identification is not known by any individual, therefore increasing the response rate of participants.

The response rate could be increased due to the cover sheet attached to a questionnaire. Studies have shown this to have an affect on whether the participant completes the questionnaire or not, so keeping this short and maintaining a friendly tone is vital (Goode and Hatt, 1962).

Privacy issues are also adhered which makes the questionnaire fair regardless of respondent. The interpretation and analysis of data is also fairly easy in questionnaires compared to other methods of data collection, especially in the case of closed ended questions and fixed response questions where the results can be easily calculated.

As well as the advantages, on the other hand there are also many disadvantages of this data collection technique, one of which includes time consumption. The time taken to fill out a questionnaire varies and is dependent on what the researcher wants to find out. If the respondent feels the questionnaire may take some time to complete, it results in them refusing to participate which would restrict the range of respondents. Also if a participant is half way through the questionnaire and realises that it is taking longer than anticipated, it may result in them speeding up their response rate leading to inaccurate results. The time taken to create, distribute and collec

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