Exploring meanings of adolescent risk behaviors



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Texas Tech University


The purpose of this study was to explore meanings ascribed to risk behaviors by older adolescents and young adults in a university-based substance use recovery program. While there has been a great deal of research on adolescent substance use and other risk behaviors, there has been relatively little research that has accessed the meanings of these behaviors from the adolescent's point of view. This is important in order to gain a better understanding of the roles of risk behaviors in the lives of adolescents, and it is also important for the development of more effective intervention initiatives. This study involved in-depth interviews with 12 young men and women between the ages of 19 and 26, All were university students participating in a university-based recovery program for alcohol and drug addiction. In semi-structured interviews, these students were encouraged to talk about their experiences during their earlier adolescent years as well as at the present time, and their beliefs regarding their drug and alcohol use. Qualitative analyses of the interviews revealed that the meanings ascribed to substance use were extensive, complex, and intertwining. These adolescents and young adults viewed their risk behavior as normative, developmentally significant, meaningful, and an integral part of their social interactions. Substance use also was viewed as a means of escape and a way of coping, as well as a means of acceptance and of seeking independence and maturity. All of these meanings were expressed by most of the individuals in the study. Implications for research and intervention are discussed.