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J Adolesc Health. 2015 Mar;56(3):323-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2014.10.267. Epub 2015 Jan 10.

Drinking motives mediate cultural differences but not gender differences in adolescent alcohol use.

Author information

Addiction Switzerland, Research Institute, Lausanne, Switzerland; Behavioural Science Institute, Radboud University, Nijmegen, the Netherlands. Electronic address:
Addiction Switzerland, Research Institute, Lausanne, Switzerland.
Social Research and Information Division, Welsh Government, Cardiff, United Kingdom.
Health Promotion Research Centre, School of Health Sciences, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland.
Child and Adolescent Health Research Unit (CAHRU), School of Medicine, University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, United Kingdom.
Chronic Disease Department, National Institute for Health Development, Tallinn, Estonia.
Department of International Health, Lisbon University, Lisbon, Portugal.
Health Psychology Unit, Institute of Public Health, Medical Faculty, PJ Safarik University, Kosice, Slovak Republic.
Department of Public Health, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium.
Department of Health Sciences, Research Centre for Health Promotion, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland.
National Institute of Public Health, University of Southern Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark.
Department of Developmental and Social Psychology, University of Padova, Padova, Italy.
Department of Child and Adolescent Health, Institute of Mother and Child, Warsaw, Poland.
Department of Clinical Psychology and Addiction, Institute of Psychology, Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary.



To test whether differences in alcohol use between boys and girls and between northern and southern/central Europe are mediated by social, enhancement, coping, and conformity motives.


Cross-sectional school-based surveys were conducted among 33,813 alcohol-using 11- to 19-year-olds from northern Europe (Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Poland, Scotland, and Wales) and southern/central Europe (Belgium, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Slovakia, and Switzerland).


Particularly in late adolescence and early adulthood, boys drank more frequently and were more often drunk than girls. Instead of mediation, gender-specific motive paths were found; 14- to 16-year-old girls drank more because of higher levels of coping motives and lower levels of conformity motives, whereas 14- to 19-year-old boys drank more because of higher levels of social and enhancement motives. Geographical analyses confirmed that adolescents from southern/central European countries drank more frequently, but those from northern Europe reported being drunk more often. The strong indirect effects demonstrate that some of the cultural differences in drinking are because of higher levels of social, enhancement, and coping motives in northern than in southern/central Europe.


The results from the largest drinking motive study conducted to date suggest that gender-specific prevention should take differences in the motivational pathways toward (heavy) drinking into account, that is, positive reinforcement seems to be more important for boys and negative reinforcement for girls. Preventive action targeting social and enhancement motives and taking drinking circumstances into account could contribute to tackling underage drinking in northern Europe.


Adolescence; Alcohol use; Cross-cultural study; Drinking motives; Europe; Gender; Mediation

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