Teenage kicks? Young people and alcohol: a review of the literature

Tim Newburn and Michael Shiner

Young people grow up in a culture in which drinking alcohol is widespread and socially acceptable.

At the same time, ‘excessive’ drinking is increasingly being linked to various forms of anti-social behaviour and has been identified as a more important source of individual and social harm than most illicit drugs. The ambiguous position of alcohol provides the central theme in this comprehensive review.

The authors consider in detail the available evidence about young people’s levels of drinking and examine different interpretations – including those which view learning to drink as a normal part of adolescent development. A discussion of the personal and social harm associated with alcohol use follows.

The authors conclude that the key questions for social policy are how to reduce the harm associated with alcohol consumption by young people and how to encourage more sensible drinking. They question the appropriateness of legislative approaches and argue that a range of initiatives to encourage more sensible drinking is required. These might include both public health approaches aimed at enhancing self-control and the creation of safer drinking environments through design, technology and possible changes to licensing laws.

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