Personality-Based Intervention Cuts Teen Binge Drinking

New findings from a team of Dutch and British researchers point to the usefulness of a personality-based alcohol intervention as a method of curbing long-term rates of binge drinking in teenagers. Teenagers in the U.S. and other countries have a prominent tendency to consume alcohol in the context of intoxication-producing binge drinking. In turn, binge-drinking teens have a steeply increased level of exposure to a host of seriously negative alcohol-related outcomes. In a study published in April 2015 in the journal Addiction, researchers from three Dutch institutions and one British institution examined the potential effectiveness of a personality-based alcohol intervention called “Preventure” as an approach to reducing adolescents’ involvement in alcohol binging.

Binge Drinking and Teenagers

Approximately one-third (35 percent) of all American teenagers in high school consume alcohol in any given month, even though such consumption is patently illegal under the laws of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Fully one-fifth (21 percent) of all teens in high school meet the standard for binge drinking in any given month by consuming enough alcohol in at least one relatively short drinking session (two hours or less) to meet or exceed the 0.08 percent blood-alcohol level that defines legal drunkenness in the U.S. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that over 90 percent of all of the alcohol consumed by high school students and other underage drinkers is imbibed in sessions that meet the binge-drinking standard. Binge drinking is dangerous for all people, and even more so for teenagers. Negative consequences for all alcohol bingers include things such as a higher rate of exposure to accidental injury, a higher rate of exposure to intentional physical assault-related injuries, a higher rate of exposure to rape and other forms of sexual assault, a higher rate of involvement in disease- or pregnancy-producing unprotected sex, the distinct chance of dying from alcohol poisoning and increased odds of developing alcohol use disorder (alcohol abuse and/or alcoholism). Negative consequences specifically found in teenagers and other underage alcohol bingers include delayed or altered growth and development, increased chances of participating in disruptive behavior while in school and increased chances of receiving poor grades on tests and classwork. These consequences emphasize the importance of seeking treatment for binge drinking.

Personality-Based Alcohol Intervention

All alcohol interventions are attempts to identify and help people whose patterns of alcohol use make them susceptible to current or future diagnosable alcohol problems. The Preventure intervention is specifically targeted at teenagers ranging in age from 13 to 15. This approach uses four aspects of the developing adolescent personality—relative sensitivity to anxiety, relative preference for highly stimulating experiences, relative tendency to act impulsively and relative tendency toward hopelessness—to identify young teens with heightened chances of getting involved in binge drinking or otherwise consuming alcohol in risky ways. Each person identified as at risk subsequently takes part in two brief intervention sessions specifically tailored to his or her personality profile.

Impact on Binge Drinking

In the study published in Addiction, researchers from the United Kingdom’s King’s College London and the Netherlands’ Trimbos Institute, University of Amsterdam and Radboud University Nijmegen used data gathered from 699 Dutch teenagers to assess the effectiveness of the Preventure alcohol intervention as a method of curbing alcohol binging in adolescent populations. Three hundred forty-three of the study participants received the intervention at age 13, 14 or 15; an age-matched comparison group of 356 participants did not receive Preventure. Measurements used to gauge the program’s usefulness included the amount of binge drinking in the past 30 days, as well as the overall frequency of alcohol consumption and the level of exposure to negative alcohol-related consequences. The researchers assessed outcomes for all of these factors one year after involvement in Preventure. After completing their assessment, the researchers concluded that the personality-based Preventure intervention does not decrease the overall rate of short-term binge-drinking involvement in teen populations. They also concluded that the intervention does not lower the likelihood that teenagers will drink alcohol in any amount or experience some sort of alcohol-related harm. However, the researchers found that Preventure enrollment may substantially increase the long-term chances that an at-risk young teen will avoid binge drinking in the first place. They also found that the intervention reduces the number of occasions on which an alcohol-binging teenager will imbibe in amounts heavy enough to produce the characteristic rapid intoxication that defines binge drinking.

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