Objective: Because most studies of adolescent alcohol use have focused primarily on the frequency and quantity of consumption, we know little about how adolescent drinking patterns change during the high school years. The purpose of this article is to provide such data, as well as to identify some of the individual, family, social life and community predictors of changes in drinking patterns over time.
Method: A sample of 1,253 students in grades 9 through 12 (57% female) in a large metropolitan school district participated. Three ethnicities were represented: African American, European American and Mexican American. Students completed questionnaires every 6 months for a 2-year period (n = 743 at Time 4).
Results: Cluster analyses of the drinking variables yielded one problem-drinking group (heavy, multiple-context drinking), two high-risk groups (i.e., date and outdoor drinking) and three normative groups (light, family/parent, moderate/ party drinking). The most predictable patterns of longitudinal changes in adolescent drinking were consistent with the following progression (or the reverse): abstainer --> normative drinker --> high-risk drinker --> problem drinker. Paternal attitudes toward adolescent drinking and peer involvement in antisocial behavior predicted movement into normative drinking; social activity with peers predicted movement into high-risk drinking; and emotional distress predicted the transition into problem drinking.
Conclusions: These findings are consistent with the multistage social learning model, demonstrating that the predictors of adolescent alcohol use vary across different levels of adolescent alcohol involvement.