Public Housing Teens At Special Risk For Drinking

June 14, 1998

Adolescents in public housing are especially susceptible to starting to drink alcohol at an early age, researchers are finding, and for much the same reasons that their suburban peers are drinking younger: their parents do it, their friends do it, and commercials tell them to go ahead, enjoy it.

"Preadolescent and adolescent public housing youth in many ways can be considered most at risk," writes Christopher Williams, PhD, and his colleagues in the June issue of the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. "Lack of neighborly contact, fear of crime and victimization, suspicion of other tenants and hopelessness are all factors that make housing developments particularly challenging environments in which to rear children."

However, after surveying 624 Hispanic and African-American seventh-graders who lived in publicly subsidized housing in New York City, Williams and his team from Cornell University Medical College and Columbia University in New York found no significant difference between them and their white suburban counterparts when it comes to what influences them to drink.

"Some of the same predictive models and conceptualizations based on research with predominantly white suburban samples," they write, "can be meaningfully used to develop prevention models for ethnic minority youth living in low income, inner city, public housing developments."

Nevertheless, they urge intensified prevention efforts among youngsters in public housing "because they are continually exposed to many of the harsh stressors of inner city life."

Among their findings:

These results, the researchers point out, "mirror findings found among older adolescents and young adults.... Thus, misperceptions that drinking alcohol is widespread among adults, peers, and friends can prove to be critical for socializing alcohol use." The researchers urge targeting minority youth in public housing developments with alcohol prevention programs that:

The research was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Alcoholic Beverage Medical Research Foundation.

Center for Advancing Health

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