What are the causes of ‘binge drinking' amongst youngsters

Abstract

The meaning of ‘binge drinking' has been questioned considerably; there is no one such definition as it is seen to be too broad and complex. A broad definition that could be used however would be drinking too much alcohol at once or over the recommended daily units, which according to the NHS is no more than 4 units for men and no more than 3 for women. The consumption of alcohol in the UK is on the increase especially amongst youngsters, which has lead to great concern.

This dissertation explores a range of issues that aimed to find out the main factors that causes youngsters aged 16-24 to ‘binge drink.' This was done by taking a qualitative and quantitative approach in the form of a questionnaire which included 24 questions with regards to the consumption of alcohol. These were paper based questionnaires as well as online based questionnaires which were given to a sample of 60 students to complete. Results showed that there are a number of factors which cause youngsters to consume alcohol. One of the main reasons for the consumption was due to the social aspect. Drinking alcohol is seen as a ‘normal' thing to do when socialising with peers, therefore this could lead to binge drinking. Other factors include peer pressure, stress release, enjoyment and confidence booster. However, findings show that the topic is more complex than this; therefore further research and investigation would need to be undertaken to fully grasp the issues underlying this subject matter.

Introduction

Significance of the issue

The United Kingdom is considered to have one of the most problematic affairs with alcohol due to drinking patterns and styles that have developed over the past century. While numerous other western European countries, such as Spain and France, have seen a decline in overall alcohol consumption, the United Kingdom's overall consumption is on the increase. Greater concern is amongst those aged 16-24 years who are primarily associated with ‘binge drinking.' As levels of drinking have increased so has the cause for concern due to social and health consequences, with 30% of men and 25% of women drinking more than the recommended intake. (Paton 2005, p.1)

Young people in particular are drinking larger amounts of alcohol over shorter periods of time. The recommended limits of alcohol per session (according to the NHS) should be no more than 3-4 units for men and 2-3 units for women. In 1990, the average amount of alcohol drunk by 11-15 year olds as a whole was 0.8 units in a typical week, rising to 1.6 units in 1998 (Goddard and Higgins 1999). Among those youngsters who do drink, the average of 5.3 units in 1990 increased to 10.5 units in 2002 (Boreham and McManus 2003) which is almost double the amount drunk twelve years previously. Those aged 16-24 in the UK are more likely to binge drink with 36% of men and 27% of women reportedly binge drinking in 2002 at least once a week (Office for National Statistics).

These s show potential dangers and risks for youngsters in many ways. A chief example of these risks and dangers would be physical health. Research has suggested that excessive alcohol consumption can lead youngsters to experience many problems, the main symptoms being breathing problems, leading to coma and inhalation of vomit (Lamminpaa 1995). Other dangers of physical health would be through the damage of the organs, mainly the liver, brain and heart (Tuttle, Mazurek, Loveland-Cherry, 2002).

Other risk factors affecting youngsters as a result of high alcohol consumption would be the risk of accident and injuries, as they have limited experience in the effects of drinking alcohol and regularly consume alcohol in high risk areas without adult supervision (Newburn and Shiner 2003). These are just a few dangers and risks outlined that are associated with adolescent alcohol consumption, and the reason why the increase of alcohol consumption by young people is concerning, therefore the factors that affect alcohol consumption and what causes this to increase needs to be looked into further in order to avoid these dangers from increasing in the future.

Aims/objectives

The general aim of this dissertation is to explore what binge drinking is and to investigate the main factors and causes associated with high alcohol consumption amongst youngsters aged 16-24, looking at students in particular. The main objectives are to look at what binge drinking actually is, as there are many definitions and questions arisen as to what could be defined as ‘binge drinking.' Also to look at the different causes of high alcohol consumption and an attempt to explain the how and why binge drinking affects youngsters in particular. Future recommendations will also be given, and an attempt will be made to investigate how much people actually know about binge drinking. In order to meet these aims and objectives, research will be conducted in the form of a questionnaire which will be handed out and undertaken around the University of Bradford and Bradford College, as well as posting the questionnaire online through a social networking site known as Facebook.

The questionnaire approach method was decided to be taken as this will help this study meet the aim and objectives in many ways; it will enable a detailed examination of the explicit problems that will be investigated, as a method of both qualitative and quantitative data collection. As described by Porter (2000) the differences between the two methods of data collection lie in their focus of analysis. Quantitative research focuses on the quantity i.e. numbers, which aim to identify the relationship between different events. Whereas qualitative research on the other hand is more concerned with the quality of data, focusing on words in the form of writing, this aims to search for the reason behind the actions. As the aim of this research is to investigate the main causes associated with binge drinking amongst youngsters, the questionnaire approach was seen to be more reliable than other methods of data collection as it gives the opportunity to collect both qualitative and quantitative forms of data, which as a result will help in the exploring, investigating and analysing process. Polit and Hungler (1999) stated that a quantitative approach is unsuitable for studying human behaviour, as it is reductionist in nature because it limits human experience to only a small amount of concepts. Therefore a number of questions will be asked in the questionnaire, both open ended and closed ended, in order to gather both quantitative and qualitative forms of data which will reduce reductionism. Questionnaires also provide the opportunity to be distributed to a much larger number of samples quite easily compared to other methods of data collection, and are a more common form of measuring attitudes and beliefs (Sim and Wright 2000). It was therefore decided that questionnaires would be distributed around the University of Bradford campus, the students union in particular, and Bradford College with the aim of gathering an insight into the factors affecting and influencing binge drinking among youngsters.

Overall approach

The overall approach to this dissertation will be a combination of a literature review and the questionnaire as primary research. The literature review will provide the theoretical background and foundations for the questionnaire that will be conducted, in addition to providing raw data on the history and context of youngsters in relation to alcohol.

After the literature review the primary research methodology will be presented, followed by the assessment and evaluation of the methodological issues. The subsequent chapter will then present the results and findings of the research in the form of qualitative data, as well as presenting quantitative data in the form of graphs and charts. There will then be an analysis chapter where the findings from this research will be correlated to the findings presented in the literature review, and both will be linked and analysed. The final chapter will then provide the conclusion and summing up, essentially in relation to the main aim and objectives of the research. Limitations of this research will also be presented here as well as recommendations for future research.

Literature review

There is a large amount of literature available on ‘binge drinking' issues in relation to youngsters, and the factors that are associated with high alcohol consumption. There are many influences affecting young adults' drinking behaviour such as gender, age, social class and religion, as well as social, personality and biological factors, and the physical availability and prices of alcohol beverages. Young adults' heavy drinking is influenced mainly by social norms of the society, secondly by socialising and thirdly by modelling, which is seen as the perception of other people's behaviour. According to Cooper (2000) young adults may value the social opportunities drinking situations offer to such a degree, that they be inclined to define drinking itself as a secondary activity to social interaction with other members (Cooper, 2000, p. 39-42).

In 1995 one of the first major investigations had taken place by the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and other Drugs (ESPAD). The study was conducted in the UK as well as 22 other European countries with a sample of 15-16 year old students. The main aim was to examine potentially risky behaviour in the use of smoking, illicit drugs and drinking amongst youngsters (Miller and Plant, 1996). Results showed that the UK was amongst those countries with the highest levels of profound drinking and drunkenness (Hibell et al., 1997).

A follow-up ESPAD study was undertaken four years later in 1999, which involved more than 90,000 students from 30 different countries, this being one of the largest major international studies of alcohol ever attempted. This report established that youngsters in the UK had remained in the same position as the earlier 1995 study, as having one of the highest levels of alcohol consumption from the 30 different countries that had taken part. As a result, youngsters from countries with the highest levels of intoxication (UK being one of them) were more likely to consume alcohol in heavy sessions and produce higher levels of episodic ‘binge drinking.' Researchers found that these heavy sessions mainly occurred on weekends in the form of parties and ‘get-togethers.' Youngsters also reported that they believed those who drink the most, enjoy the most so drinking alcohol had positive effects on them, even if this also results in unfavourable consequences i.e. ‘hangovers.' One international study known as the GENACIS study, found that people are unsure about the effects caused by binge drinking, and are willing to acknowledge the negative experiences as the ‘price they pay for enjoying their drinking' (Plant et al 2002). In conclusion, parents who teach their children to drink within the context of a controlled home environment, result in the children drinking less and with fewer problems than those who drink outside of their home environment under minimum supervision.

A study by E Webb, C. H. Ashton, P. Kelly, and F Kamali (1996) was conducted on university students from ten UK based universities, with a sample of 3075 second year university students. A questionnaire was distributed whilst scheduled lectures were taking place. Results showed that 61% of men and 48% of women exceeded the ‘sensible' weekly limits. Binge drinking was reported by 31% of men and 24% of women. The main reason for drinking was pleasure, which was reported by 89% of men and 92% of women. Other factors included habit, to increase confidence, decrease anxiety/stress and social pleasure. The main findings by Webb et al. were that a considerable amount of university students are drinking above sensible recommended limits. This applies not just to university students, but has also been found amongst young people in general in the UK.

There are many perceptions of alcohol consumption, one of which is mainly the perception of becoming an adult. According to Plant and Plant (1992) alcohol has been regarded as an important rite of passage into adulthood for a number of years. Many participants have introduced alcohol into their social life as they believe it is an indicator of them becoming an adult. Alcohol consumption was traditionally associated with the males going to pubs and drinking beer (Lees 1986). It was also traditionally associated with a male's ability to display masculinity (McDonald 1994). However, Honess et al (2000) stated that motivation for the consumption of alcohol amongst adolescents, are now more complex than imitating adult behaviour. Honess et al (2000) found another perception of alcohol consumption, which was as a means of releasing stress. Participants from the study perceived the consumption of alcohol as a way of relaxing after a stressful day at work for example.

Another major factor found to influence and cause alcohol consumption to increase is peer groups. Swadi (1999) stated that the influence of peers is a key motivation factor for adolescent alcohol consumption and their perception towards alcohol, as it is now becoming increasingly important for youngsters to gain a social status and develop an identity for themselves amongst their peer groups.

As well as peer groups, parents have shown to have an affect on young people's attitudes towards alcohol too. Youngsters imitate the behaviour, alcohol consumption and perceptions of that of their own parents (Yu 2003). One respondent called Amy from the study by Yu (2003) for example, stated: ‘At 15, I didn't really know anyone who drank, I perhaps might have had a glass of wine at Christmas or half a glass but that was it and my mum and dad didn't really drink, we didn't go to places where people were drinking' comments like this from respondents from the study proved that the exposure of alcohol from parents has a major impact and influence on youngsters, as Amy wasn't really exposed to alcohol much from a young age, she did not perceive drinking alcohol as a ‘normal' thing to do therefore does not often take part in such activities and behaviour. As a result, the findings by Yu (2003) have been supported; who found that heavy drinking in adolescent offspring can be reduced and prevented within the home environment depending on that of their parents.

Paton (2005) also found that youngsters are more likely to become heavy drinkers themselves if they have a family history of alcohol misuse. He came up with three main factors that he stated influenced alcohol consumption: Genes, Family and Environmental factors. He claimed that the main influence on the risk of misusing alcohol was the family factor with 46%, secondly was genes with 36.5% then third most important are environmental factors with just 17.5%. He found that ‘alcoholism' was more evident amongst identical twins and there was an increase of ‘alcoholism' amongst men that were separated from their alcoholic parents after birth. The family factor also played a role in the influence according to Paton (2005). Results showed that up to 50% of heavy drinkers have a history of family alcohol misuse, this was characterised by starting to drink at a young age, addiction, chaotic drinking and antisocial behaviour. Paton (2005) also found that behavioural factors such as boredom, habit, low self-esteem, loneliness, anxiety and depression can also help promote the consumption of alcohol. He also claimed that drinking alcohol is determined by environmental factors such as culture, availability and price, individual's needs, life events and circumstances. (Paton, Touquet, 2005, p.13).

There have been significant cultural influences on alcohol consumption as reported by Ledous, Miller, Choquet and Plant (2002), who looked at adolescent alcohol consumption of that of teenagers in the UK and France. Results showed that adolescents in the UK were more likely to have consumed alcohol six or more times in the past twenty days, than that of the adolescents in France. This demonstrates the difference in the drinking cultures amid different countries. A further study by Cameron (2000) looked into these cultural differences in an attempt to describe such contrasts. This was done by comparing the drinking cultures of Northern Europe countries to that of Southern Europe countries. Cameron (2000) found that countries in the northern region are seen to have ‘wet' drinking cultures, in other words people in the northern region drink excessively in order to become drunk as a result of bringing about more alcohol into their daily lives and adhering to fewer government restrictions. This supports the idea that drinking to get drunk is seen as ‘normal' behaviour to youngsters within the British culture.

The definitions of ‘binge drinking' are broad in nature and have been questioned considerably. There is no one such definition to define binge drinking. Studies have shown that many respondents very rarely define binge drinking in accordance with the number of units actually being consumed. A 1997 report for the US based International Center for Alcohol Policies (ICAP) addressed the lack of formal definitions. Recent publications have defined binge drinking as drinking over half of the recommended number of units of alcohol in a week per session. These publications show that researchers tend to adopt the most general definition based on previous research conducted, with no such explanation or rationale for their stated definition. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) illustrates binge drinking as drinking eight or more units of alcohol at least one day in the week for men, and six or more units for women, this is in line with sensible drinking guidelines using daily standards, therefore could serve as an estimate of binge drinking, with the absence of a Department of Health (DoH) definition.

A longitudinal study carried out on high school students by Schulenberg et al (1996) found that 30% of the students had altered their drinking patterns during the conversion period of adolescence to adulthood. 20% of the students who classed themselves as binge drinkers had reduced their heavy drinking as they reached adulthood. However, 165 of the students had increased their binge drinking or had to some extent sustained a pattern of persistent binge drinking as they reached adulthood. Once adult roles are undertaken such as employment, marriage and parenthood, and then these patterns of drinking are shown to decrease and fade out. Also, unfavourable life events such as divorce are correlated with binge drinking, as statistics show that 29.6% of separated and divorced people were occupied in weekly binges, compared to that of only 17.9% of married people.

Primary Research Methodology

The general aim was to find out what causes youngsters (aged 16-24) to binge drink, this was tested through the use of a questionnaire design. The questionnaires consisted of twenty four questions in relation to drinking, along with a brief at the beginning of each of the questionnaires (see appendix 1) which provided the participants an explanation of the main purpose and context of the research, as well as outlining ethical considerations i.e. anonymity of the questionnaire which ensured the participants that their answers and identifications would remain anonymous and that they could withdraw from the research at any time. The questionnaires included both closed ended and open ended questions, this was to give the participants an opportunity to express their views in relation to the subject matter, and also provided the opportunity to gather quantitative as well as qualitative data to be collected and researched.

To ensure that the results were a true reflection of society, the right type of research methodology had to be selected. Questionnaires were primarily selected as it allowed the results to be gathered directly from the target audience. The questionnaires allowed the data to be collected in a structured way because the same questions were asked to all participants in exactly the same order. The inclusion of quantitative, closed ended questions ensured that the data was consistent because the respondents are limited to the answers that they could state, which also makes the interpretation of data simple. The inclusion of qualitative questions allows the respondent to express their own opinions and arguments which may not be covered in the closed questions.

After selecting the main research method it was then essential to target the correct audience. Any flaws at this stage could have led to the wrong type of group filling in the questionnaires which would result in incorrect data being gathered. For example, if the questionnaires were handed out in an elderly care home, the results would be of no use in this scenario as the main purpose of this dissertation is based around young adults aged 16-24. The questionnaires were handed out physically around the Students Union (SU) area at the University of Bradford and Bradford College over the period of three days, in addition to this a group was formed on Facebook, a social networking site which provided a link to the questionnaire which could be completed and submitted online by the general public. The students union was selected for the primary location as it is associated with the correct age group for this research and is also has strong links with alcohol consumption. Bradford College was chosen due to most students being aged within the 16-24 age category. Due to the high interactivity with the internet amongst young adults it was essential that this type of medium was also used to gather results. The internet is a very popular medium in this digital age which allows results to be gathered nationally therefore providing a better sample of results to base the dissertation on. Facebook allowed me to target specific individuals which ensured the validity and fairness of the results. Each respondent that joined this group on Facebook was provided with the essential information needed to give them an understanding of the main aims and objectives of the research, as well as give them information regarding ethical issues, such as anonymity. Once potential respondents were chosen via Facebook they were then invited to join a group specifically created for this dissertation which provided them with a link to the survey. The online survey creator which was specifically selected to provide the link for the online questionnaire (See appendix 3) was from the website ‘tigersurvey.com'. This was primarily chosen due to its ease of use and ensured questionnaires were submitted anonymously to override any privacy issues, it also gives an automatic calculation for each of the questions which would make the analysis process much easier (see appendix 4).

The questionnaires were given out to students in the month of January 2009 during the hours of 12-2pm. This slot was chosen due to the sheer number of students that are present on campus at this time due to lunchtime. The issue of timing is very important as it allows a wider audience to respond making the results accurate and more effective. The type of research conducted was close to a street survey in which participants are asked questions face to face in bustling environments. The only difference in this case was instead of asking participant's questions directly they were given a paper based questionnaire, which overrides various issues such as verbal problems, accent problems, shyness and language barriers etc. The link for the online questionnaire was also created in the same month; however this was free to fill out at any time during the day.

The sampling method for a study is described as the process for selecting individuals from the population to be included in a research project (Hammersley and Mairs 2004). Rubenstein (1994) stated that there is no definite number of participants that should be used within a study however, other researchers such as Baum (2000) believed that a sample should consist of between twelve and twenty participants in order to obtain maximum variation in the findings, taking into consideration the actual nature of each study. A sample size of 60 students aged between 16-24 years were used for the research in order to achieve this maximum variation, these were a mixture of school, college and university students. The technique of random sampling was used, where each member of the public has an equal chance of being selected.

Before the questionnaires were distributed a pilot study was conducted in the previous week, this is a pre-testing stage which gives the opportunity to identify and correct any misleading, unclear or double barrelled questions. The respondents from the pilot study were debriefed to determine whether the questions asked were confusing or misleading in any way or another, and to receive initial feedback in general about the questionnaire. After receiving the feedback some of the questions had to be reworked to ensure that they were understood by all participants and allowed the questions to be answered correctly. The advantage of doing a pilot study includes reduced costs (paper), reduced time, and ensures correct method and effectiveness. If a pilot study was not conducted before a full scale research it could result in falsifying responses from respondents leading to inaccurate results being collected.

Ethical Issues

It is vital to protect human rights when conducting research involving human beings (Polit and Hungler 1997). Sim and Wright (2000) outlined three ways in which a research question must be ethical:

1. Methods that could possibly threaten the welfare of participants should not be incorporated

2. If the findings of a research are seen to be detrimental of certain individuals in any way, then it should not be continued

3. Certain groups of the population should not be consistently excluded in research

Ethical considerations are important in helping researchers to decide whether an investigation or field of study is ethically acceptable, and decide whether it should be continued or not. Ethical issues in relation to research are now mostly considered with research involving human beings. Some examples of these researchers are Moody (1990), Polit and Hungler (1991), Brown (1993). Most ethical guidelines were initiated due to research that was undertaken during the Second World War. Some of the ethical guidelines are as follows:

Ø Anonymity and Confidentiality

Participants may want information about themselves, their views and attitudes to be kept private; they have the right to privacy. As Brown (1993) stated:

‘Control of personal information is viewed as an expression of autonomy and as an individual's right to protect his or her social vulnerability and identity.'

To ensure that this guideline is met, the participant's data should be used in such a way that only the researcher knows who provided the information. In some cases however, even the researcher need not know of the source. This applied to my research, as participants were selected randomly around the university and college and were told that the questionnaires would remain anonymous as no name or contact information would be taken from them. In addition, the questionnaires submitted online via Facebook, were also submitted anonymously and the answers provided were kept confidential.

Ø Informed consent

Informed consent is difficult to define and it is difficult to know whether someone has given informed consent or not. Informed consent gives the right of every individual when taking part in research, so can not be ignored (Couchman and Dawson 1990). It is vital that sufficient information is given in order for an individual to decide whether he/she wish to take part in the research (Polit and Hungler 1991) this decision is voluntary and relies on the individual themselves. Participants are more likely to take part in research if they think it is of benefit, or has positive consequences for themselves or society in general in the long run, this is also known as consequentialism. Informed consent was given by the participants in this research after being told about the main aims and purpose of research, this was done verbally and was also stated on the brief supplied along with the questionnaire, which gave participants the right to withdraw from the research at any time. Participants also gave their consent to participate via the online questionnaire, as they weren't forced into completing this and could also withdraw at any time.

Ø Deception

If participants are deceived in any way, then researchers will suffer from a lack of trustworthiness, so it is imperative that they are not. However, some researchers state that deception must be present in some cases in order to receive valid and reliable data (Gans, 1962; Douglas, 1979). This was not the case in this research as participants were given a full explanation for the purpose of this research, so they were not deceived in any way.

Ø Cultural variations

It is important to understand that cultural differences may exist in ethical acceptability of research. Conflicts and problems may arise when the researchers are from a different culture to that of their participants. The ethical guidelines of cultural variations do not relate to this particular research, as participants are from the same culture i.e. UK, Bradford university, college and school students to be precise.

Looking at these ethical issues, it can be said that this research is ethically sound as all forms of the ethical guidelines have been met and not broken in any way.

Methodological issues

The research method employed within this study is a questionnaire, both paper based (appendix 1) and online based (appendix 3). There are many advantages as well as disadvantages for using this type of survey method. Below the two distribution methods have been separated and the issues concerning both have been examined separately.

Paper Based Questionnaire

There are many advantages of using a paper based questionnaire, one of which is anonymity which allows the questionnaire to be analysed and examined without bias input from the researcher. Berdie, Anderson and Niebuhr (1986) stated that ‘an anonymous study is one which nobody (not even the study directors) can identify who provided data on completed questionnaires.' People are also more likely to participate in research if they know that their identification is not known by any individual, therefore increasing the response rate of participants.

The response rate could be increased due to the cover sheet attached to a questionnaire. Studies have shown this to have an affect on whether the participant completes the questionnaire or not, so keeping this short and maintaining a friendly tone is vital (Goode and Hatt, 1962).

Privacy issues are also adhered which makes the questionnaire fair regardless of respondent. The interpretation and analysis of data is also fairly easy in questionnaires compared to other methods of data collection, especially in the case of closed ended questions and fixed response questions where the results can be easily calculated.

As well as the advantages, on the other hand there are also many disadvantages of this data collection technique, one of which includes time consumption. The time taken to fill out a questionnaire varies and is dependent on what the researcher wants to find out. If the respondent feels the questionnaire may take some time to complete, it results in them refusing to participate which would restrict the range of respondents. Also if a participant is half way through the questionnaire and realises that it is taking longer than anticipated, it may result in them speeding up their response rate leading to inaccurate results. The time taken to create, distribute and collect questionnaires could also be time consuming.

The tendency for social desirability may also be present, where participants state what they think researchers want to hear and give answers that they feel would be acceptable, rather than what they actually feel or think. However, this may be reduced as there are no verbal or visual clues when filling out questionnaires that may influence a respondent to answer in a particular way.

Sometimes when a prospective respondent is approached in the street they may feel intimidated and refuse to take part, which once again restricts the range of respondents. With the paper based questionnaire, in order for a quick response the questionnaires had to be filled in there and then resulting in reduced respondents. This may be the case as many prospective respondents refuse because of time constraints, but in this research those that refused were recommended to participate in the online questionnaire which allowed them to complete the questionnaire in their own time.

Depending on the research topic itself, sensitive information may result in an issue that is personally sensitive. Participants may find information such as age, gender, level of income etc as highly sensitive, so may not wish to disclose the information. In this research people may find the issue of binge drinking to be seen as sensitive due to personal experiences or other personal reasons, therefore may not answer the questions fully or may refuse to participate.

Online questionnaire

Just like the paper based questionnaire, the online questionnaire also has many advantages and disadvantages. The main advantages of online questionnaires are firstly the geographical region, where more respondents can be reached compared to the paper based questionnaire, as more people have access to the World Wide Web.

Also the use of indirect communication will make respondents feel less intimidated compared to that of the paper based questionnaires, as they are not being approached in the street face to face.

It also allows for participants to fill out the questionnaires in their own time, unlike paper based questionnaire where participants would have to fill them out immediately. They would also have the opportunity to fill out half of the questionnaire if they are busy for example, and then come back and fill out the other half in their own time.

Anonymity would also be increased as researchers would not see the face of the respondents who are taking part, and the name of the participants or no other form of identification would have to be given.

The cost of online questionnaires would also be reduced compared to paper based questionnaires, especially in the case where much larger samples are used, as the costs of printing for example, would be eliminated.

Online questionnaires would also be less time consuming than paper based questionnaires, as the questions can be answered and obtained much quicker online and summaries and charts can be automatically drawn from the results that have been obtained.

As well as the advantages, there are also many disadvantages for the use of online questionnaires. Although indirect communication is an advantage, it is also a disadvantage because of the reduced communication between the respondent and researcher. Reduced face to face communication would make the respondent more wary and is likely to lead to inaccurate results being collected.

Another disadvantage of online questionnaires is technological issues such as accessibility to a computer and the internet. Even though the internet is becoming more and more popular by the day, many people still have no access to it and are therefore unable to complete the questionnaire online, this would lead to a reduced number of respondents. Also, people who have access to the internet may still be wary of providing their details over the internet due to security fears and threats such as hackers for example. This would once again limit the number of respondents. Another issue relating to the internet is the fact that all prospective respondents were selected via the Facebook website; this may become an issue as not everyone has a Facebook account so would not be able to access the link to the online questionnaire, which once again would restrict the number of respondents. Online surveys are also seen to have a lower response rate overall compared to paper based surveys, depending on how broad the sample is.

Results of Primary research

This chapter presents the main findings of the research designed to explore and investigate the main causes of ‘binge drinking' amongst youngsters aged 16-24. Each of the closed ended questions that were provided in the questionnaire will be looked at briefly in the form of pie charts, and the three open ended questions that were included will then be discussed separately. Each of the questionnaires (paper based and online) will be examined together as a whole, by calculating both sets of results together giving an overall percentage, which will make the analysis process easier. There were 60 respondents in total for each of the questions, as each of the questions was mandatory. The number of responses however was quite different, as some questions gave the opportunity for more than one answer to be selected, for example, the ‘who do you drink with' question allowed the participants to select as many options that applied, resulting in more than 60 responses.

Closed ended questions

The first question asked was regarding the participants' age. The pie chart above summarises the age ranges of those who filled out the questionnaires, where the number of respondents equalled 60 as each of the questions were compulsory. Results showed that the majority (55%) of respondents were aged between 18-21 years, compared to 30% of 21-24 year olds and 15% of who were 16-18 years of age.

The gender of participants was then looked at. The pie chart above shows that most participants were males with a total of 63% compared to only 37% of participants that were female.

Most participants were single (79%), as shown in the above pie chart, with 18% being married and only 3% being divorced. None of the participants claimed to be widowed. Previous research has shown that those who are caught up in adolescent roles such as marriage are less likely to drink than those who are divorced for example, with 29.6% of separated and divorced people being occupied in weekly binges, compared to only 17.9% of married people. This could also be the case in this research where 79% of the participants are single, as they have not yet taken up adulthood roles they can be seen to have more time on their hands which gives the opportunity to have more time to drink, which could further result in bingeing.

A total of 64% of the students who participated were university students, 33% were college students and only 3% claimed to be attending school. This could have an adverse affect on the results as the number of students are not equally split in terms of place of study; University students may show to drink more than college students for example, or vice versa.

Participants were then asked whether they lived with both their parents. Results showed that 61% of the youngsters did live with both their parents, 12% lived with only one of their parents, 25% lived with neither of their parents and only 2% stated that they lived with a guardian. Previous research has shown that parents can have a major influence on the drinking patterns of their offspring. A study by Yu (2003) found that youngsters imitate the behaviour, alcohol consumption and perceptions of their own parents. The findings from this research show that 61% of the participants live with both their parents and 65% claimed that both their parents drink. In conclusion, most of the participants of this research claim that they live with both their parents, both of whom drink, therefore Yu's (2003) findings can be supported here, as the exposure of alcohol from 65% of the respondents' parents could have impacted and influenced the respondents to drink themselves.

Participants were then asked where they lived, whether at home, in student accommodation or other. A vast amount of students lived at home with a total of 73%, compared to 22% who lived in student accommodation and 5% that stated other. Findings by Yu (2003) claimed that the home environment can have an impact on youngsters with parents playing a major part on the influence of these youngsters; these results show that most of the participants live within their own home environment and most of them live with their parents who consume alcohol, which could have impacted their own behaviour compared to the other 22% who claimed to live in student accommodation and 5% who stated other.

Most respondents stated that they started drinking under the age of 16, a total of 66% said they had their first drink under the age of 16. 27% said they started drinking between the ages of 16-18, 7% started drinking aged 19-21 and none of the participants stated that they started after the age of 21. Research in the past has shown that most people have tried alcohol before the age of 16; these findings show that this is still the case, youngsters have consumed alcohol beverages under the legal age.

Those that stated they started drinking under the age of 18, were then asked the reasons as to why they started drinking alcohol under the legal age; these reasons are shown in the above pie chart. There were 60 respondents in total, however the number of responses is quite different as participants were given the choice to select as many options that applied to them, therefore the actual number of responses totalled 93 for this question. The reasons for drinking alcohol under age were all fairly closely related, with 35% stating it was due to peer pressure, 28% said drinking alcohol made them feel tougher, 23% stated that it gave them a confidence boost and 14% said that it was due to other factors. This shows that the reasons for trying and drinking alcohol under the legal age are due to a various number of factors which differ from person to person.

Participants were also asked how many times they drank in a typical week. Half of the respondents claimed to drink between 1-3 times in a typical week, 37% claimed to drink 4-6 times in a week and only 13% claimed they drank everyday. This shows that many participants could be drinking over the recommended amounts of alcohol, but this would depend on the actual amounts of alcohol drunk per session, which can be shown in the pie chart below.

They were then asked how many units of alcohol they drank in a typical week; these results are shown in the above pie chart. A total of 60% of participants claimed to drink 1-10 units of alcohol in a week, with 23% drinking between 11-21 units, 12% drinking 21-30 units and only 5% drinking over 30 units of alcohol in a week. Results from each participant would need to be analysed separately in order to find out whether any of the participants are seen to be binge drinking, as no conclusion can be drawn just by looking at the overall percentages of the amounts of alcohol drank, because the amounts drank and the amount of times the participants drink in a typical week are varied, therefore results would need to be analysed individually in order to be more precise.

The pie chart above shows the amount of units of alcohol that the participants believed would be classed as binge drinking for men. All 60 participants were given the opportunity to select one option for the men and one option for women, so there was a total of 120 responses for this question. Results showed that 73% of them believed that consuming over 6 units of alcohol would be classed as binge drinking for a man. 20% thought that consuming 5-6 of alcohol would be classed as binge drinking, 5% stated 4-5 units was enough to be classed as a binge drinker and only 2% thought that consuming 2-3 units was classed as binge drinking for a man. None of the participants stated 1-2 units of alcohol would be classed as binge drinking. The recommended daily amount of alcohol recommended for men is no more than four units for men, most of the participants claimed that four or more units would be classed as binge drinking, but the issue that is concerning is the fact that 73% of them claimed drinking six or more units would be classed as binge drinking, therefore would lead them to think that consuming anything under this amount is fine, whereas in reality anything under four units would be safe. This shows that people have little knowledge about binge drinking, as not everyone knows the actual amount of alcohol that they should be drinking in order to be ‘safe.'

Women's binge drinking was then looked at separately, and results showed that the participants claimed women's binge drinking to be similar to that of the men, with nearly half (49%) believing that consuming more than 6 units of alcohol was enough to be classified as binge drinking for a woman, with a close lead of 32% of participants thinking 5-6 units would be classed as binge drinking. 17% stated 4-5 units as binge drinking and only 2% thought that consuming 3-4 units of alcohol was enough to be classed as binge drinking for a woman. None of the participants classified 1-2 or 2-3 units of alcohol as binge drinking. This is just as concerning as the issue for men, as the actual recommended amount of alcohol for women is no more than three units, only 2% of the participants claimed that drinking 3-4 would be a risk, a mammoth 81% thought that drinking above four units of alcohol would be classed as binge drinking. This may also lead to women thinking that drinking above the recommended limits is safe, as they are unaware of the actual units that would classify as binge drinking.

The next question the participants were asked was whether or not their parents drink, as this was seen in previous studies to have a major impact on youngsters. 65% of participants claimed that their parents did drink, 18% said they did not and 17% stated that only one of their parents drank. A total of 82% of the participants have at least one parent who drinks, which could support the findings of previous research that parents do have an effect on their offspring, they can be seen to influence the alcohol consumption of their own children.

The pie chart above shows who the participants usually consume alcohol with, whether it was their parents, siblings, extended family, friends or other. As the participants were given the option of selecting as many answers that applied, the number of responses from both the paper based and online questionnaires totalled 138. The majority of participants claimed to drink mostly with their friends, with an overall percentage of 42%, secondly, 21% claimed to drink with their parents. The extended family and siblings came jointly in third place with 16%, and 5% stated other as an option.

The next question asked participants the locations in which they consume alcohol. This question also gave the opportunity of selecting more than one option, where the number of respondents equalled 60 but the number of responses equalled 184. The venues in which participants claimed to have drunk were all closely related. 29% claimed they drank at parties, a close 27% drank at pubs and clubs, then not far behind with 20% drank in their own home environment, and then only 3% stated other as an option, so the locations where youngsters drink alcohol are varied depending on the individual themselves, but the results show that youngsters drink mostly at pubs, clubs and parties.

The above pie chart shows the results of what the participants stated when asked whether or not they classed themselves as binge drinkers. An incredible 83% claimed not to be binge drinkers compared to only 17% that did. Although the majority of participants do not class themselves as binge drinkers, results from other questions showed that participants were unaware of how many units would actually be classed as binge drinking, therefore in reality they may be regarded as binge drinkers although they do not classify themselves as one.

They were then asked whether anyone else in their family were binge drinkers. The above pie chart shows that 62% of the participants claimed to have a binge drinker in their family, but 38% claimed that they did not. This is somewhat different to the previous question, although most of them do not regard themselves as binge drinkers most of the participants claim that they do have someone in their family that would be classified as a binge drinker.

Most participants stated that drinking alcohol boosted their confidence levels; a huge 82% stated that it did boost their confidence levels, whereas only 18% stated that drinking alcohol did not boost their confidence levels. This was seen to be one of the major factors affecting the consumption f alcohol among youngsters in previous studies as shown in the literature review, and the results from this study support this hypothesis as most of the participants claimed that drinking alcohol does provide them with a confidence boost, proving that it is still a major factor that promotes youngsters to consume alcohol.

Previous studies shown in the literature review found that the accessibility of alcohol can also play a part in alcohol consumption amongst youngsters, therefore participants were asked whether or not they were able to purchase alcohol under the legal age, to see whether this is still a factor causing youngsters to consume alcohol which could result in them binge drinking. The results are shown in the pie chart above. 70% of respondents claimed they were able to purchase alcohol under the legal age of 18, compared to 30% that claimed they could not. This has shown to have a major impact on the influence of alcohol consumption amongst youngsters in the past and the results have proven that there has not been much change here, as most alcohol is still accessible to youngsters who are under the legal drinking age.

The purchase of cheap alcohol has also shown to have made an impact on alcohol consumption, with a huge 83% of participants claiming they are able to purchase cheap alcohol, compared to only 17% who are not able to purchase cheap alcohol, as shown in the pie chart above. As a result of the availability of cheap alcohol, youngsters are more likely to increase their levels of alcohol consumption which could again lead to the risk of them binge drinking.

Participants were asked when they had last seen and advertisement on television showing the safe limits of alcohol, to see whether the role of the media is having and affect on the public or not. The pie chart shows that many respondents claimed to have seen an advertisement on television regarding safe alcohol limits quite recently, with 33% claiming to have seen it within the past few days and not far behind was 32% claiming they have seen an advert in the past week. 17% claimed that they had seen an advertisement in the past month, 8% said they had seen one in the past year only, 7% claimed they had seen one on the actual day they had filled out the questionnaire and only 3% claimed that they had never actually seen an advertisement regarding safe alcohol limits on television before. These results show that although the majority of participants have seen an advertisement on the safe limits of alcohol quite recently, there were many respondents that had not seen one in over a month, which could have played a part in the lack of knowledge regarding this subject matter among youngsters.

The above pie chart shows some interesting results on the types of drinks that youngsters like to consume, where the number of respondents equal 60 and the number of total responses equal 167. Shots and alcopops are shown to be consumed the most with 23% consuming shots and 22% consuming alcopops. Spirits was then shown to be drunk by 20% of respondents, 13% consumed low alcohol drinks such as beer, lager and cider (at 2%), 10% consumed super strength drinks such as beer lager and cider (at 9%). Only 9% consumed wines and champagne e.g. red, white rose etc, and only 3% consume fortified wines such as sherry and port. The results show that youngsters like to consume a range of drinks, there is no specific type of drink that they like to consume and this depends on each of the individuals themselves.

Open ended questions

The participants were asked a total of three open ended questions, which gave them the opportunity to express their views and give their opinions on this topic of binge drinking. The responses from the online questionnaires have been attached in appendix 5, as well as a few examples of the paper based questionnaires in appendix 2.

The first open ended question that was asked was ‘why do you drink?' This gave participants the chance to express themselves more openly as there may be some other factor underlying the reason other than the ones that are stated in the questionnaires, for example peer pressure, confidence boost etc. By looking at some of the responses in the appendix, we can see that the majority of participants claimed to drink alcohol because of the effects it has on them and the feelings they get as a result of drinking alcohol e.g. enjoyment, confidence, feel relaxed etc. Also the social aspect of it has shown to be one of the major causes of alcohol consumption as some of the participants stated that they enjoyed socialising, and some also claimed that it was due to peer pressure and addiction.

The second open ended question that was asked was ‘What do you believe binge drinking to be?' Most of the participants perceived binge drinking as drinking alcohol excessively in a single session. Others gave much more negative responses to this question for example, ‘something hooligans do on the weekend,' ‘Drinking till you throw up, drinking without much sense to it.' A few of the participants wrote ‘n/a' in response to this question, which shows that not everyone knows what binge drinking is. People have formed different views with regards to the meaning of binge drinking

The third and final open ended question that was asked was ‘Has the increase in pub/club opening hours affected you at all?' Many of the respondents stated ‘no' with a few that claimed they did, with reasons such as: ‘longer drinking times,' ‘allows me to stay out for longer,' ‘more time spent at the pub' etc. This shows that the increase in the opening hours has had a positive impact for the participants themselves as it gives them more time to socialise with their peers. However, this can be seen to have a negative impact overall as the opportunity for them to drink more means that an opportunity is also provided for them to increase the levels of binge drinking.

Analysis

Looking at previous research and comparing it to the results of this questionnaire that was undertaken, we can see that some of the findings are still evident and similar and there has not been much change since the previous studies were undertaken. According to the ESPAD study, results showed that the UK has one of the highest levels of profound drinking and drunkenness (Hibell et al., 1997). This can be seen in the results that have been collected from the questionnaires, which proves that youngsters are consuming hefty amounts of alcohol, increasing the levels of drinking and drunkenness in the UK.

The sensible weekly limits of alcohol for men are no more than 21 units and no more than 14 units of alcohol for women. Looking at the results from the questionnaires, we can see that quite a large amount of the participants are still consuming more alcohol than the sensible weekly limits as guided. The results show that youngsters that consume these ‘unsafe' limits of alcohol are also consuming it on more than one occasion per week. When the participants were asked how many times they drink alcohol in a week, 50% claimed to drink between 1-3 times in a week, 37% of participants claimed to drink between 4-6 times in a week, and 13% of the total participants claimed to drink everyday. This proves that there has not been much change in the consumption of alcohol since previous research that have been conducted, a large amount of youngsters are still drinking greater amounts of alcohol than advised to do so.

The aim of this research was to find out what the causes of such high alcohol consumption are and what makes youngsters aged 16-24 want to drink alcohol in the first place. Previous studies have shown that factors such as confidence makes youngsters want to drink alcohol. When the participants of this research were asked whether drinking alcohol gave them a confidence boost, an enormous 82% of them claimed that it did compared to only 18% that claimed it did not give them a confidence boost. This proves that one main factor contributing to the cause of alcohol consumption is the fact that it boosts the confidence of youngsters, making them want to consume more alcohol in order to gain this confidence, which as a result could lead to binge drinking.

The participants were also asked openly why they drink alcohol, without the limitations of just a few options to select from in order for them to express their views more openly and widely. There were a wide variety of answers that were provided to this question, by looking at these answers in the appendix, we can see that the majority of participants drink due to the social aspect of it, they think of drinking alcohol as a ‘normal' thing to do and something they do to socialise with friends. Quite a large number of participants also like the way it makes them feel, there were many answers provided that could fit into this category such as, feel relaxed, fun, enjoyment and giving them more confidence, they stated that factors like these came as a form of stress relief and helps to take their mind off things making them feel more relaxed. This supports the research findings of Honess et al (2000) who also found that people drink alcohol as a means of releasing stress and it makes them feel relaxed after a stressful day. A few of the participants blamed peer pressure as the main cause of drinking alcohol, which has also shown to be one of the reasons for drinking in the previous research as well which was found by Swadi (1999), who established that peer groups have a major influence and are key motivators of alcohol consumption.

Previous research as shown in the literature review, have also found that the parents of youngsters also have an impact on alcohol consumption. Yu (2003) alleged that young people imitate the behaviour, alcohol consumption and perceptions of their own parents, the exposure of alcohol by parents has shown to have an influence and impact on youngsters. This finding has been supported by the results of the questionnaires in this research; when participants were asked whether their parents drink alcohol, 65% stated that their parents do drink alcohol, 18% stated that they do not and 17% stated that only one of their parents drink alcohol. The 65% that do drink alcohol could have significantly impacted the youngsters that participated to drink alcohol too, as well as the 17% that claimed only one of their parents drank.

Results from this research showed that 83% of the participants classed themselves as non binge drinkers, compared to 17% that did class themselves as binge drinkers. When asked whether anyone else in their family are binge drinkers 38% stated that there is someone in their family that would be classed as a binge drinker, compared to 62% that stated that there is not a binge drinker within their family. Research by Paton (2005) found that 50% of heavy drinkers had a family history of alcohol misuse. The finding from Paton's study is supported by this research that found that 38% had a problem drinker in their family, which could be the likelihood and cause that may also encourage and influence youngsters to drink alcohol.

Paton (2005) also claimed that one determination of drinking alcohol is the availability and price of the alcohol. Participants were asked in the questionnaire whether they were able to purchase cheap alcohol, results showed that 83% of participants stated ‘yes' that they are able to purchase cheap alcohol, compared to only 17% that stated ‘no' they are not able to purchase cheap alcohol. Therefore, Paton's (2005) claim that the price of alcohol is a determination of drinking is factual, as most of the participants are able to get hold of cheap alcohol which would result in them consuming more. Participants were also asked whether they could purchase alcohol under the legal age, a mammoth 70% claimed that they were able to purchase alcohol at a young age compared to 30% that were not. This also supports the findings of Paton (2005) who claimed that another major factor determining the consumption of alcohol is the availability of alcohol. The results of this research show that alcohol was available from a young age to the participants, playing a key role in the consumption of alcohol.

Other key findings were also noted from this study. Participants were asked how many units of alcohol would need to be consumed before they would be classed as binge drinkers, they were asked to rate men and women separately as the ‘safe' limits of alcohol are different for both genders. The results showed that not everyone knows what the recommended drinking limits in one session actually are. A review of the literature showed that the recommended units should be 3-4 for men, and 2-3 units for women in a single day, any more than these recommended limits would be classed as binge drinking. However, the results from this research proved very different, the majority (73%) stated 6+ units would be classed as binge drinking for men, 20% of participants stated 5-6 units, 5% stated 4-5 units and 2% stated 2-3 units would be classed as binge drinking. None of the participants thought that 1-2 or 3-4 units of alcohol would be classed as binge drinking for men. The results for women however were also quite similar. Nearly half (49%) of the participants claimed that 6+ of alcohol is classed as binge drinking for women as well, with 32% stating 5-6 units, 17% claiming 4-5 units and only 2% claiming that 3-4 units is classed as binge drinking for women. None of them claimed drinking 1-2 or 2-3 units of alcohol would be classed as binge drinking.

These results are quite shocking as the units of alcohol that people perceive as being ‘safe' have been pushed to the limit, with most of the participants claiming drinking 6+ units of alcohol is binge drinking, resulting in increased levels of drinking as anything under this is perceived as being ‘safe.' This demonstrates the lack of knowledge and understanding of individuals who consume alcohol, as not many people are aware of the actual recommended units of alcohol that should be drunk per session in order to be safe and not result in binge drinking, proving that more needs to be done in order to make people more aware of the risks and dangers that this could result in. Findings from the questionnaire proved that not much is being done in the marketing sector in terms of advertising. The participants from the research were asked when they last saw an advertisement on television regarding safe alcohol limits, many claimed to have seen an advertisement regarding this within the past week However, many claimed that they had not seen an advertisement regarding the safe limits of alcohol on television for over a month, with 3% of them claiming that they had never seen an advertisement relating to this. Therefore, more would need to be done in order to give youngsters more knowledge about binge drinking and the effects of it and to ensure that they are more aware of the recommended units of alcohol that they should be drinking.

Conclusion

This chapter will briefly summarise the key findings of the surveys that were carried out, and will also look at the limitations of the research. Future recommendations will also be given to further develop the knowledge of what causes youngsters to consume alcohol.

The main aim of the study what to investigate and explore the main causes of alcohol consumption amongst youngsters aged 16-24, either studying at school, college or university. This was done in the form of questionnaires which asked a mixture of 24 open ended and closed ended questions. These questionnaires were distributed by hand and through an internet link on the social networking site Facebook, as outlined in the methodology chapter. A total sample of 60 students was used.

Looking at the results produced from the questionnaires, key findings were noted. Firstly, the understanding of alcohol consumption is fairly complicated and not an easy process to grasp, as the results have shown that there is no one cause for the consumption of alcohol amongst youngsters aged 16-24. A review of the literature suggests that this has always been quite complicated in nature and not a great deal has changed over the years. The main factor that causes youngsters to consume alcohol is due to the social aspect, they see drinking alcohol as a ‘normal' thing to do and something to do when socialising with family and friends. Other factors that cause youngsters to drink alcohol, found from both the literature review and the findings from the questionnaire, include issues regarding peer pressure, the way it makes people feel i.e. confidence, and also factors such as parental influence playing a major role in alcohol consumption. The availability of alcohol has also shown to have an influence as youngsters are able to purchase alcohol under the legal age, as well as cheap alcohol becoming more readily available to them resulting in increased alcohol consumption. The research aims and objectives have therefore been achieved, of finding out the main causes of binge drinking among youngsters. More youngsters are increasing their alcohol intake as time goes by without knowing the risks and dangers they are letting themselves into, therefore a great deal more needs to be in order to prevent this from spiralling out of control in the near future.

Limitations of research

Having conducted the research, there have been a considerable amount of limitations that may have affected the validity of these findings. Firstly, there were only 60 participants that had taken part in this research, the sample size is too small so the results cannot be generated and related to that of the whole population of youngsters, therefore the sample size would need to be increased in order for the results to be more valid.

A second limitation of this study is that the participants may have lied in the questionnaire and gave false answers to the questions asked. This could be due to a number of reasons; the participants may have been in a hurry therefore filled out the questionnaire without putting any consideration into it, or they may have found the subject matter too sensitive due to personal reasons which could also lead them to giving false answers, reducing the validity of the results further.

As shown in the results from this research, not everyone is aware of the actual recommendations of ‘safe' alcohol limits. The participants may not know how the units of alcohol work therefore when they were asked about the units of alcohol in the questionnaire, the participants may have lied and taken random guesses, or stated what they think that the researcher wants to hear.

A final limitation of this research is the research method itself. In order to fully grasp the subject matter, a different approach could have been taken e.g. interviewing youngsters that consume alcohol, this would have allowed for further questions to be asked as well as a wider variety of questions, thus more qualitative and quantitative data could have been collected.

Regardless of these limitations, the participants of this research provided some interesting views and opinions with regards to their own consumption of alcohol that can be used towards looking further into the use of alcohol and youngsters.

Future recommendations

This research has contributed to the research area surrounding binge drinking, looking in particular at youngsters and the causes of their alcohol consumption. However, the research can be expanded and further established, bearing in mind the limitations described above.

Future research should be conducted using a larger sample size than used in this research, in order to increase the validity of results. As well as increasing the sample size, research could be done looking at certain ethnicity to see whether this plays a role in the consumption of alcohol, also whether there are gender differences in relation to this.

Research could also include a much broader age range than 16-24, although this research looked at youngsters in particular, a longitudinal approach could be taken, and the participants could be followed up on in the near future to see whether their behaviour or views and perceptions about binge drinking have changed over time.

Future research could also look into reducing the levels of binge drinking through the role of the mass media for example. The results of this research found that the media had not been effective in reducing alcohol limits and making people more aware of the safe limits of alcohol, therefore more would need to be done in future to increase the awareness. This could also be done through the use of government interventions and services.

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