Consumo abusivo de alcohol en adolescentes. Discurso para la Brain Disorders Conference

Francisco José Montero Bancalero.

Se presenta aquí el discurso de la presentación realizada para la Brain Disorders Conference del pasado año:

Personal presentation

My name is Francisco José Montero Bancalero. I am from Spain, have a PhD in Psychology, and am a professor at the University School of Osuna (Spain). I have experience researching the problem of alcohol consumption among youth, its risk factors and consequences, and the design of actions to prevent alcohol consumption among young people, with a special emphasis on the phenomenon of the binge drinking.

Summary of exposure

My research, titled “Binge drinking among adolescents in Spain: Recommendations to address it,” aims to explore the reality of the problem of binge alcohol consumption in Spain, its risk factors, its characteristics, and its consequences for cerebral, psychological, and social development. Secondly, based on strategies that have been implemented, it aims to build a set of best practices for the prevention of alcohol consumption among young people, highlighting the acquired progress and remaining challenges in intervention.

Contextualization of the problem

Spain is a country of Mediterranean culture with very favorable climatic conditions for tourism, a sector that represents about 11% of the national gross domestic product. During a considerable part of the year, favorable weather conditions allow social encounters on the street. Therefore, there are numerous opportunities for recreation and leisure in open spaces.

On the other hand, Spain has a long tradition in alcohol powered by its wine culture. For this reason, alcohol is a very present element in people’s lives, permeating social and cultural rituals, meetings, and social gatherings, when there is something to share or celebrate. These scenes of celebration involving alcohol are amplified by the media, for example, when reproducing scenes of athletes or artists celebrating their successes with alcohol, even to alcohol poisoning. There is a shared social belief that drinking alcohol is the best way to have fun. This makes it difficult to resist social pressure when it is common that almost everyone drinks to have fun.

It should be added that the current profiles of young drinkers in Spain have evolved over the decades. Currently, we see a greater presence of poly-drug substance use, that is, alcohol with cannabis, cocaine, tranquilizers, methamphetamines. There also is an increasing prevalence of girls drinking. Binge consumption of alcohol usually begins at an early age. In this work, however, it is noted that alcohol, being the most prevalent drug, represents the gateway to use of other substances.

Binge drinking usually is characterized by the following:

1. It occurs in a range of young people usually from late puberty to early adulthood.

2. The greatest consumption is recorded during Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights.

3. This consumption is high level.

4. Alcohol often is consumed in large spaces, squares, or on the street.

As for the impact on individual health, it should be noted that because brain maturation has been in most cases incomplete, binge alcohol consumption has devastating effects on neuronal development, especially in the frontal regions of the cortex as these are the last to mature. Because the regions involved are those that control metacognitive processes such as reflective decision making and planning strategies to solve problems, the effects of binge alcohol consumption can cause problems later in impulse control, personality, and learning. Other negative consequences for individual health may be related to the digestive tract or injuries resulting from accidents in which alcohol has been involved.

The social consequences that are most commonly associated with binge drinking are traffic accidents that can affect one’s life, damage to property and objects in and along the street, assault, unwanted pregnancies, etc.

Goals

The outcome of this research is intended to be a set of best practices to intervene at different levels in the prevention of alcohol abuse and thus to reduce the prevalence of damage to individual health and in particular the maturational development of youth, as well as the social losses resulting from this phenomenon.

Process

A mixed (quantitative and qualitative) procedure has resulted in a synthesis of previous experiences related to research and implementation of actions to prevent problems with alcohol and other substances. These research experiences, registered over the years in a field notebook, include key informant interviews, expert opinion, and a systematic review of addiction prevention programs carried out recently in Spain.

Results

From an overall perspective, the first thing to highlight is the importance of coordinating preventive actions at different levels, that is, political, family and educational, and social.

On the political level, there must be a legal opinion that comes from the administrations that combine control and educational policies and at the same time ensures that the resources and means necessary for healthy policies are executed.

The family and educational level should be achieved through awareness and involvement of all in the task of educating and promoting healthy behaviors. Currently, there is a rift between family and school that does not benefit our youth. We must build bridges of communication among one another. This will facilitate early detection of drinking problems.

At the social level, it is important to escape behaviors that stigmatize youth. In this sense, the media have to change their attitude and convey a negative image of youth drinking, highlighting the part of reality in which young people are problematic and drug addicts.

More specifically, measures covered by actions should include the rise of preventive programs. Programs that enhance the personal skills of young people, such as social skills and problem solving, are more effective than programs that focus on informative interventions. Coping skills to resist social pressure is a key factor to consider.

Prevention programs should include parents and educators; the impact of preventive actions will be higher in these cases. Family and school are two fundamental contexts of socialization by the peer group. Programs must include them to obtain real results. In this regard, it would be desirable to include transversal content in relation to substance abuse and promotion of healthy behaviors.

Healthy leisure alternatives will have to be encouraged, talking with young people themselves, incorporating their proposals, and creating opportunities for them to take place. These activities must be properly disclosed and their effects can be considered only in the medium and long term.

Encouragement of young people to critical analyze alcohol consumption can come from explicit or hidden messages from advertising, television, and cinema and also from their favorite idols like athletes, singers, or actors. We also should try to demystify the substances and their effects, showing their true reality.

Conclusions: Progress and challenges

A true approach to binge alcohol consumption by young people should include coordinated actions at different levels. Actions that are aimed at the development of personal skills are more effective.

Finally, this project should disseminate and make visible those action programs that have achieved positive results and should enhance methodologically valid research to analyze the impact of actions taken to address the problem of binge alcohol consumption among youth in Spain.

Thank you very much for your attention. I leave my email in case you want to contact me.