Objectives. Effectiveness of strategies to counter injurious risk-taking in adolescents depends on the degree to which behaviors are modifiable or intrinsic to a sensation-seeking personality. Alcohol consumption is often targeted because it is seen as a modifiable determinant. This study sought to clarify the relative importance of engagement in heavy episodic drinking (HED) independently of sensation-seeking tendency (SS), as a predictor of potentially harmful (and protective) behaviors.
Methods. A written survey was administered to students aged 15–17 years in 40 high schools in New South Wales (NSW), Australia to measure HED, SS, and harmful and protective behaviors associated with drug and alcohol use, driving, and celebrating.
Results. Of 2705 respondents, 60% reported HED, 36% failed to wear a seatbelt, 23% rode with an alcohol-impaired driver, 23% rode with a drug-impaired driver and 9% had been alcohol impaired while driving. Two-thirds (65%) had engaged in harmful behaviors and 99% had engaged in protective behaviors while celebrating. SS, gender, income, and age were significant predictors of HED. HED and SS were significant, independent predictors of every harmful or protective behavior. HED had the greatest effect on harmful celebrating behaviors, riding with an alcohol-impaired acquaintance, and riding with a drug-impaired driver. HED had a stronger effect than SS, for alcohol-impaired driving, riding with an alcohol-impaired acquaintance, riding with a drug-impaired driver, and harmful celebrating behaviors.
Conclusions. The vast majority of adolescents who are low to average sensation seekers may benefit from population-based prevention strategies emphasizing that decisions leading to harmful outcomes are more likely if they engage in HED.
van Beurden, E, Zask, A, Brooks, LO & Dight, R 2004, 'Heavy episodic drinking and sensation seeking in adolescents as predictors of harmful driving and celebrating behaviours: implications for prevention', Journal of Adolescent Health, vol. 37, no. 1, pp. 37-43.
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