Drinking among high school and college students has long been a major public health concern in the U.S. As a key dimension of the connection between education and health, which has fascinated social and behavioral scientists for years, this link between secondary/postsecondary education and alcohol use is theoretically important. Focusing as it does on institutional settings that historically have been viewed as amenable to policy intervention, this link also points to ways that that such theoretical activity can be applied. Although the potential impact of educational experiences on youth drinking has been studied frequently, it is not well-understood in many ways that have implications for informing intervention. Following the "developmental" spirit of the R21 mechanism, therefore, this project draws on extant data to look into insufficiently known aspects of the education-drinking link and, in the process, support future primary data collections that focus on the most important aspects of the education-drinking link while addressing current data limitations. First, the specific dimensions of high school academic statuses and settings that matter to adolescent drinking, as well as the mechanisms underlying these associations, need to be better assessed and identified. This project draws on a unique data set-the integration of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), a nationally representative study of health behavior in the early life course, and the Adolescent Health and Academic Achievement study (AHAA), which adds rich school transcript and textbook data to Add Health. This integrated data set allows the study of drinking to be informed by important innovations in educational theory and measurement, including more accurate renderings of: (a) adolescents'positions in the academic hierarchies of their schools, (b) the characteristics of their fellow students that they take classes with throughout school, and (c) the cognitive skills (e.g., critical analysis) that they develop through coursework and can draw on in health decision-making. Second, the extent to which the education-drinking link varies across stages of the life course will be considered by drawing on postsecondary AHAA data, the hypothesis being that the importance of the academic and social settings of colleges to the drinking of young adults will depend on their academic and social histories as adolescents in high school. Third, drawing on the genetic samples and DNA data of Add Health, this project will assess the degree to which both latent and specific genetic influences are confounded with the education-drinking link and whether they condition/trigger the effects of educational experiences on drinking in adolescence and young adulthood. The investigatory team includes sociologists and clinical/developmental psychologists who have experience in research on drinking, education, or both, including working with Add Health/AHAA and using advanced statistical techniques and genetically informed designs. The goal of this R21 is to explore fresh approaches to old questions about the education-drinking link in a cost-effective strategy that allows future, larger-scale data collections to be more effectively designed.
Project Narrative: Studying the implications of specific academic statuses and settings for drinking-and the social and cognitive mechanisms underlying them-across the transition from adolescence into young adulthood is important for theoretical understanding of the general issue of how risky behavior can be both constrained and supported within a societal institution designed to promote the long-term socioeconomic attainment and civic participation of young Americans. Such research is also high in policy relevance, given that underage drinking and binge drinking on college campuses have long been major public health concerns in the U.S., that formal organizations (e.g., high schools) are more amenable to policy intervention than other social influences on drinking (e.g., peer groups), and that the missions of schools and colleges have been expanded to include health promotion. In these ways, this R21 project represents an important step in building educationally- informed approaches to drinking in adolescence and young adulthood.
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