Impact of School Violence on Youth Alcohol Abuse: Differences Based on Gender and Grade Level

Researchers have noted a strong association between violence and alcohol-related problems among youths. Studies have shown alcohol use to be linked to violent behavior; nevertheless, gaps in the research currently exist, especially with regard to gender and grade level differences in the impact of school violence on recent alcohol use and episodic heavy drinking among youths. In the April 2016 issue of the journal Children & Schools, published by NASW Press, Rebecca A. Vidourek, PhD, CHES, Keith A. King, PhD, MCHES, and Ashley L. Merianos, PhD, published a study which seeks to address these gaps and subsequently to present prevention specialists with specific information that could be used in tailoring violence and alcohol interventions targeting youths. The purpose of this study was to examine (a) whether involvement in school violence increases the odds for recent alcohol use and episodic heavy drinking, and (b) whether the impact of school violence on youth alcohol abuse differs based on gender and grade level.

Participants in this study were seventh- through 12th-grade students (N = 54,361) in 133 public and private schools located in eight counties within the Greater Cincinnati area (77.4 percent response rate). Half of students were female (50.6 percent) and half were male (49.4 percent). Grade levels were evenly distributed among seventh through 12th grades. Seventy-five percent of students were white, 14.4 percent African American, 4.1 percent multiracial, 2.4 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, 1.8 percent Hispanic/Latino, 0.4 percent Native American, and 1.5 percent other. Two-thirds (62.4 percent) lived with both parents. All participation was voluntary, and no incentives were offered. Students were excluded if their parents did not want them to participate in the study. All responses from students were kept anonymous. The researchers used The PRIDE (Parents’ Resource Institute for Drug Education) Questionnaire (International Survey Associates, 2016) was used to survey students. This questionnaire is a national survey that assesses youth substance use and school violence. For the purpose of this study, the following three survey sections were used: (1) demographic information, (2) involvement in school violence, and (3) frequency of recent alcohol use and episodic heavy drinking. The School Violence Subscale consisted of six items that requested students to report how often they were involved in violence at school during the past year (never, one time, two to five times, six or more times). School violence items included the following: (a) carrying a handgun; (b) carrying a knife, club, or other weapon; (c) threatening a student with a handgun, knife, club, or other weapon; (d) hurting a student with a handgun, knife, club, or other weapon; (e) threatening to hurt a student by hitting, slapping, or kicking them; and (f) hurting a student by hitting, slapping, or kicking them. Frequency of recent alcohol use was assessed by asking students to report whether they had used alcohol within the past month. Episodic heavy drinking was assessed by asking students to report how often (never, seldom, sometimes, often, a lot) they engaged in episodic heavy drinking. Demographic and background information required students to fill in appropriate personal and family information.

One-third (34.7 percent) of students reported involvement in school violence in the past year. Of those students, 2.9 percent carried a gun, 9.2 percent carried another weapon, 3.8 percent threatened a student with a weapon, and 27.5 percent threatened to hurt a student by hitting, slapping, or kicking. One in four (22.5 percent) hurt a student by hitting, slapping, or kicking; 2.7 percent hurt a student by using a handgun, knife, or club. Those most likely to be involved in school violence in the past year were students who were male, not white, and in junior high school.

One in five (20.3 percent) students reported using alcohol in the past month, and 10 percent reported that they frequently (often/a lot) engaged in episodic heavy drinking, defined as drinking five or more alcoholic beverages on one occasion. Logistic regression analyses were performed for male and female adolescents and junior high and high school youths. Results indicated that involvement in school violence within the past year significantly increased the odds of recent alcohol use and episodic heavy drinking among boys and girls. More specifically, both boys and girls involved in school violence were twice as likely as those not involved in school violence to report using alcohol in the past 30 days and to report frequent episodic heavy drinking.

Several differences in school violence were found. Boys, junior high school students, and minority youths were more likely to be involved in school violence than other students. Regarding race and ethnicity, white students were half as likely as nonwhite students to be involved in school violence. The study also found that school violence was associated with increased odds for involvement in recent alcohol use and episodic heavy drinking. The present study found that those involved in school violence were more likely than their counterparts to abuse alcohol. It is not surprising that boys were significantly more likely than girls to have been involved in violence. Interestingly, however, the impact of school violence on recent alcohol abuse and episodic heavy drinking was virtually identical among male and female adolescents in the present study—both male and female adolescents involved in school violence were twice as likely as their counterparts to report drinking alcohol in the past month and to engage in frequent episodic heavy drinking. Although female youths are less likely than male youths to report physical fighting and weapon carrying, those who are involved in violence are similar to their violent male peers in displaying increased alcohol use behaviors. School professionals and preventionists should therefore be aware and use such information to assist in developing and implementing their violence and substance abuse prevention efforts.

One of the most interesting findings of the present study was the pronounced difference between junior high school students and high school students concerning the impact of school violence involvement on alcohol use. Junior high school students who were involved in school violence were six times more likely than their counterparts to have been involved in recent alcohol use and frequent episodic heavy drinking. Conversely, high school students who were involved in school violence were only twice as likely as their counterparts to have been involved in recent alcohol use and frequent episodic heavy drinking. The authors suggest that future studies are needed to investigate the reasons for this difference.

They further recommend that school professionals should continue to devote efforts toward combating shared factors underlying youth violence and substance use, and that schools should focus on strategies and initiatives to enhance positive school connections. In addition, schools should continue educating youths regarding effective coping skills such as problem solving, communication, conflict resolution, refusal, and decision making as a means to reduce the likelihood for involvement in violence and substance use. The study findings suggest that global approaches to reducing both alcohol use and school violence are needed. Promoting school connectedness, establishing clear rules against school violence, establishing strong student–teacher relationships, and training school staff on school connectedness techniques are crucial steps in prevention. In addition, increasing collaborations between schools and communities and key community partners can further enhance connectedness and build positive relationships between adolescents and the community. Such partnerships can include volunteer opportunities for students with local community groups, mentoring opportunities for community members, and training opportunities for parents and other important adults on youth development and prosocial skills.

One comment

  1. Great article! Thank you for posting this great example of quantitative research focused on potential means of prevention of school violence. It will be interesting to measure the success of any or all of the recommended interventions.

    Keep this type of work coming!

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