Public Release: 

When Russian teenagers start drinking

National Research University Higher School of Economics

High school students intending to pursue vocational education consume alcohol more often than their peers who are planning to go to universities. These findings come from a survey of 1,000 Russian high school students that was carried out as part of a joint research project by scholars from Higher School of Economics and New York University.

The researchers conducted a survey among Russian high school students involving 1,269 teenagers with an average age 14.9 from 16 public schools in Tomsk. Males made up 51.3% of those surveyed.

Respondents were classified into four groups. The first group consisted of adolescents who reported no educational intentions. The second group included youth who intended to transition to vocational and trade schools (VTSs) without long-term college plans. The third group consisted of those who planned to attend VTS after regular school and later transition to college. Finally, the fourth group included students who intended to proceed to college without ever attending VTS.

The teenagers were asked to complete an anonymous questionnaire and indicate how often they consume certain alcoholic beverages. They were also requested to indicate their parents' education and occupation, as alcohol consumption is related to parents' socio-cultural status.

The researchers analyzed associations between teenagers' extracurricular activities and alcohol use. They focused on such activities as working for pay; religious activities; 'hanging out' with friends in parks, in the streets and night clubs; as well as reading. Extracurricular activities such as arts and sports clubs and studios were taken into account, but didn't show any association with drinking behaviour.

When grouped by the same level of parental education, those teenagers who are not planning to attend university are much more likely to consume alcohol as compared to those who are planning to go to college. Those planning to attend VTS and later transition to college also demonstrated a tendency to drink.

The study showed that get-togethers with friends often add to alcohol consumption. The researchers also noticed an unexpected positive correlation between visits to religious institutions and a tendency to 'hang out', which means an indirect correlation between religious activities and alcohol use. 'A possible explanation is the Russian cultural context, which is favourable to alcohol consumption. Religious activities may give teenagers additional access to adult role models and get-togethers with friends of the same age that involve drinking', the researchers explain.

The study confirmed that teenagers planning to pursue higher education tend to read more. Reading also has the highest positive correlation with sobriety. High school students planning to apply to university have less time to hang out in the streets, in clubs, etc.; as a result, they face a lower risk of becoming addicted to alcohol.

This is the first time such associations related to teenage alcoholism have been analyzed in Russia. The authors emphasize that further experiments are necessary, which, for example, could clarify the correlation between religious activities and alcohol use, as well as the role that practices like reading play in forming healthy habits in teenagers. The researchers stress that alcoholism prevention measures should be actively implemented in high schools rather than in vocational and trade schools that enrol teenagers who have already formed drinking habits.


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