There has been an increase in intensive alcohol drinking by Spanish adolescents since the 1990s, especially among the females, but there has been limited exploration of this phenomenon. The objective of this study was to analyse the discourses of Spanish adolescents on their drinking behaviour at contextual, relational, and personal levels.
A qualitative study was undertaken in 96 adolescents aged between 14 and 17 years who had experienced at least one intensive drinking episode during the previous year. They lived with family members and were not offenders or at risk of social exclusion. Participants were recruited at educational centres and youth centres in two provinces in southern Spain. Ten focus groups and 30 in-depth individual interviews were conducted. A summative content analysis was performed.
Intensive alcohol drinking was widely practiced in this study population. Consolidation of this practice was influenced by cultural, interpersonal and personal dimensions. Consumption in public spaces emerged as a key influential factor, especially the botellón, a collective space–time in which Spanish adolescents socialize and become initiated into intensive alcohol consumption. Besides the facilitating elements of the social and cultural setting, the results also evidence the effects of interpersonal relationships within the peer group, which offer a series of approaches to risk and protective practices. In these adolescents, the main reason for engaging in alcohol drinking was to enhance their social relationships, which acted as a mechanism to normalize intensive alcohol consumption.
Policies to reduce the harm caused to adolescents by intensive alcohol drinking need to take account of the contextual, relational and personal dimensions of this practice. The discourses of these adolescents from Southern Spain point to a potential role for the peer group in harm reduction strategies.