Researching Teen Drinking and Alcohol Use: First Steps

This past week I’ve been working on getting my project off the ground, including scheduling my first interviews, conducting them, transcribing them, and looking for patterns and potential codes (and also unpacking and cleaning my room, but I haven’t quite gotten around to that yet). So far I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the number of people interested in participating: I have about 35 interested subjects, and since my original goal was 25 interviews, if I am able to schedule and complete all of these sessions I’m more than set for the rest of the summer. The group is diverse in terms of gender, race, beliefs, experience, and upbringing, so I’m excited to be able to hear so many different perspectives on teen drinking and alcohol use.

This week I conducted six interviews, five of them over the phone. I asked subjects about their first experiences drinking, their attitudes towards alcohol, the attitudes of their families and friends, and any influential experiences or events that have altered their views on drinking. My overall goal is to trace the evolution of a person’s beliefs about drinking, from their perceptions of alcohol when they were children, to their first time trying it, to their current attitudes about it. I want to analyze the factors that lead someone to become a heavy drinker or push someone away from drinking.

Based on my first set of interviews, people seemed to have very nuanced views on drinking. Each participant’s drinking habits and views on alcohol had changed greatly over time in response to the attitudes of their friend group, transitions between schools, their parents’ habits, and various traumatic experiences associated with alcohol. I found myself getting completely immersed in each person’s story. The participants opened up greatly over the course of the interview, and I ended up talking with each of them for over an hour. Their narratives and suggestions also prompted me to add more topics to my interview guide, including the quality of alcohol health education they’d received, their attitudes/habits regarding marijuana and other drugs, and their own perception of what had influenced their drinking habits the most.

I’ve also been working on transcribing the interviews, which will allow me to look for patterns among the experiences and attitudes of the subjects. Transcribing is pretty slow going; it’s taking me roughly four hours to transcribe one hour of a session. So far I’ve only managed to get through two and the beginning of the third interview. However, it’s helpful to be so immersed in the material. Though I’m pretty behind, I’m planning to get the bulk of the interviews done in the next three weeks and then do most of the transcribing during the second half of the summer, as I start coding and writing my research paper. I also found a really good software that allows me to change the speed of the recordings and play portions on a loop so transcribing goes more quickly.

So far, I have another six interviews scheduled for this upcoming week and hope to add more. I’m excited that my research has taken off so quickly and I look forward to what the rest of the summer brings!


  1. achennesseynil says:

    First off, this seems to be a well-planned, interesting project on an intriguing field, so keep up the good work! I was wondering if any of your subjects were from countries in which the drinking age is lower than it is in the United States because I know, for example, that in Europe, where the age is typically 18, it is perfectly normal for parents to teach their children proper drinking practices from the age of 15 onward, as the general thought in Europe is to teach kids to understand proper drinking before they learn to drive. This is contrary to the United States, where the driving age is much younger than the drinking age, which leads to experimentation with alcohol usage, often in an irresponsible manner, mixed with driving. It would be interesting to see if any of your subject had experience with the drinking age being younger than the driving to see if they thought that had an impact on any teen alcohol related driving incidents.

    Additionally, I think it would be interesting to see if after the interviews, your opinion on what factor shaped the interviewees views’ on alcohol most matched their own opinion of which factor was most important.

  2. Hi Aidan! Thanks for your comment, I think it took me a while to figure out how wmblogs works so I only just saw it. It was definitely very interesting to see how American attitudes about drinking conflicted with attitudes of other countries around the world. A few subjects in the study had immigrant parents or parents that lived abroad for a long time, who were more likely to let their children try alcohol at a young age. While the study as a whole had a variety of drinkers, some who had only had a couple glasses of wine in their lifetime and others who got drunk at least four times a week, almost all of them were extremely opposed to drunk driving and declared they would never do it. My theory was that this was because a lot of alcohol education is specifically focused on drunk driving and how dangerous it is; there’s no way to “drunk drive” safely, so a zero-tolerance education policy is actually pretty effective. However, zero-tolerance education for drinking itself is not. Drinking doesn’t have to be dangerous, but alcohol ed makes it seem life-threatening in any amount without discussing healthful ways to do it. Most students end up trying alcohol anyway, but now they’re unequipped with the knowledge of how to drink safely. Subjects who were exposed to non-American cultures or views on drinking seemed to be more conscientious and thoughtful when it came to drinking; even if they drank often, they went extra lengths to drink safely and in relative moderation.

    Most subjects thought the most important influence had been their friends, family, and the culture of their schools. This mostly matched with my theory. However, I also thought that the timeframe of when they started drinking to the present was extremely important in determining their current habits. People seemed most excited about alcohol right after they first tried it; they were very into it for a period and experimented with it in a variety of ways, but once the novelty wore off, they drank less. Even if someone’s friends, family, and school culture stayed the same, they would probably go out less later in college or after college, and spend more time with friends and significant others. They would “settle down,” essentially. Subjects who started drinking early in high school seemed somewhat disenchanted with it by college and drank more sporadically than people who were just starting to drink. This sort of “tapering off” of interest wasn’t mentioned as a major factor by interviewees but seemed pretty clear to me after doing all the interviews and talking to people at different stages in the process.