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J Adolesc Health. 1998 May;22(5):409-16.

Adolescents' insight in heavy drinking.

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  • 1University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.



Because so few adolescents with alcohol problems seek treatment, this study examined the factors associated with adolescents' recognition or insight into having a substance use problem.


Data were extracted from a self-report questionnaire used in an epidemiological study of public middle school students on substance abuse in Arkansas. Those drinking heavily were divided into "admitters" and "deniers" based on their response to the question of having a substance use problem. Odds ratios were calculated to measure the association of several variables with admitting a problem.


Of 3395 adolescents, 13.4% (455) met or exceeded our threshold for heavy drinking. Only 15.9% (65) of these heavy drinkers acknowledged having a substance use problem. Reporting more types of negative social events related to alcohol use and scoring higher on a measure of positive alcohol expectancies were significantly related to admitting to a substance use problem. Recent health care contact and perceived environmental factors did not independently contribute to insight.


If these results are generalizable, treatment and educational interventions should emphasize linking alcohol use and negative social consequences.

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