Mason Receives Grant to Research Teen Drinking Cultures in America

Posted: March 27, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Mason has received a $500,000 grant from the Century Council to fund a two-year research initiative that aims to set the benchmark for all future studies undertaken to combat underage drinking.

The “Understanding Teen Drinking Cultures in America” study is designed to better understand the psychological and sociological factors that affect adolescents as they make decisions regarding whether to engage in alcohol-related behaviors.

It will be codirected by Mason researchers David Anderson, professor of education and director of the Center for the Advancement of Public Health, and Hugh Gusterson, professor of sociology, anthropology and cultural studies.

This study represents the second time the Century Council, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting drunk driving and underage drinking, has supported multiyear, independent research at Mason. “Promising Practices: Campus Alcohol Strategies,” a national initiative to assist leaders at the campus, state and national levels, was a previous project. The resources developed in that project assisted campuses in planning, initiating, organizing and implementing effective campus-based strategies to prevent and reduce alcohol-related problems.

“An important goal of George Mason University is to help educate our faculty and students about an issue with which college and university administrators all over the country are dealing: underage drinking,” says Mason President Alan Merten. “This research will provide valuable insight and information as to why young people drink, and the risks of this behavior.”

The project will research several components of teen drinking cultures, including the context of adolescents’ early experiences regarding alcohol; patterns of youth alcohol consumption; and the messages teens get about alcohol from peers, parents, school personnel, community leaders and other sources.

“What makes this study different from the previous initiative is that while in the past students may have had their first drink on campus, today they are developing drinking habits at a much younger age,” says Gusterson.

“By assessing the psychological and sociological ecosystems that affect adolescents as they make decisions about alcohol, we hope to break new ground that will lead to a meaningful reduction in the rate of adolescent alcohol consumption in the future.”

The study will employ six research strategies to inform the findings and recommendations. One strategy is to conduct focus groups with youths and adults in regions across the United States. Another strategy consists of annual telephone surveys of approximately 1,000 middle school, high school and college students, as well as parents, teachers, school administrators and community leaders.

In addition, approximately 200 interviews will be conducted with experts on adolescent drinking and/or culture as well as individuals at the local, state and national levels.

During the study, the researchers will engage a national advisory panel that will provide additional oversight and analysis of the results. The researchers also anticipate developing an index that can track the efforts and results occurring at the local, state and national levels.

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