“I don’t want to drink, but I’m afraid to lose my friends.” Alcohol consumption, risk perception and norms of the youth subculture
My PhD thesis examines how adolescents’ risk perceptions interact with the explicit and implicit norms of the youth subculture and affect their alcohol consumption practices. The research among adolescents’ has revealed that dealing only with risks related to alcohol may not be efficient in the preventive communication. Adolescents’ overall knowledge of risks is quite high which raises the question – if teenagers are aware of the risks, why do they still carry out different risk related activities? Literature suggests that risks are also socially constructed and adolescents risk behavior is affected both by individual characteristics (e. g. self-esteem) and environmental characteristics (e.g. family, school relations, impact of the community). My research addresses the question how the risk constructions and social norms interact and shape the alcohol-related practices of youngsters. Data collected through ethnographic research conducted in youth centers in Estonia will give an insight on how adolescents handle different risks. I will also examine peer group pressure to consume alcohol among adolescents, by focusing on the different ways adolescents normalize alcohol consumption in their conversations with each other. It draws on empirical evidence from ethnographic research conducted in one of the youth centers in Estonia and qualitative text analysis of the topic-related forum postings in a special communication environment for youngsters. Topic-related forum gives an insight to peer-to peer learning process, opening the implicit group norms and normalization processes otherwise staying implicit. The ways that adolescents construct pro-alcohol norms in their subculture, such as linking alcohol consumption with ritual events in their lives - graduation from basic school, celebrations of reaching certain ages and different holidays, and events linked with their peers (especially school events, such as excursions) - are explored. The specific focus of the analysis is the risks related to alcohol (over)consumption (e.g. behaviors damaging the subjects' health and self-esteem), reflected in the youngsters’ “normalizing” conversations. The analysis focuses on the question of how pro-alcohol practices are connected with non-consumption practices. How do peer pressure and the norms of the subculture influence adolescents’ decisions to consume alcohol? The thesis discusses the possibilities of resisting the normalization of alcohol in the youth culture, both on the individual and the collective/institutional levels, and ways of (re)normalizing refusal and non-consumption practices.