the group and has been faced with situations in which saying “no” to alcohol will be viewed unfavorably by peers. Younger adolescents report having more trouble moving between crowds than older adolescents, so it may be more difficult for them to go against the norms of a crowd if they feel uncomfortable (Brown et al., 1994).
Although we have concentrated on describing the normative changes that affect adolescents, there are clear individual differences in development as well, and some of these differences may be associated with higher alcohol consumption. These differences include personality, perceptions of risk, and self-efficacy, as well as gender and racial differences in adolescent alcohol consumption (noted in Chapter 2). Although numerous clinical studies indicate that individuals differ in their likelihood of experiencing alcohol dependency and related disorders (Kessler et al., 1997; Swendsen et al., 2002), our focus in this chapter remains on nonclinical populations.
Is there a personality profile that is related to adolescent risk for alcohol abuse? Cloninger (1991) found that three traits, present as early as age 10, were associated with alcoholism at age 28: (1) being easily bored and needing constant stimulation; (2) being driven to avoid negative consequence for actions; and (3) craving immediate external rewards for efforts. In addition, antisocial personality disorder has been linked to alcohol misuse among adolescents (Clark et al., 1998). Similarly, a recent study of children aged 8 to 15 found that conduct disorder often predates and predicts later alcohol use (Clark et al., 1998).
In nonclinical populations, a major personality characteristic that has been related to adolescent risk taking is sensation seeking, defined by seeking novel, complex, or risky situations (Zuckerman, 1979). The appeal of drinking alcohol and other “forbidden” behaviors for adolescents may be the novel and intense sensations provided by the experiences (Arnett and Balle-Jensen, 1993); students who have higher needs for sensation seeking are more likely to report higher levels of drinking, as well as other delinquent behaviors. Others have also reported associations between sensation seeking or novelty seeking and alcohol use (e.g., Martin et al., 2002). Donohew and colleagues (1999) argued that sensation seeking influences alcohol use indirectly, through peer affiliations: teens who are sensation seekers tend to choose friends with similar sensation seeking desires, and such peer group affiliations increase alcohol use.