Academic giftedness and alcohol use in early adolescence

From Gifted Child Quarterly

Alcohol is the drug of choice among American adolescents, used by more young people than tobacco or marijuana. Alcohol is the leading contributor to deaths among youth. Each year approximately 5,000 young people die as a result of alcohol related injuries. In addition there has been significant research underscoring alcohol’s negative effects on adolescent brain development. A group of adolescents typically overlooked as being at risk are students who are academically and intellectually gifted. This group is thought to possess protective factors including high intelligence, strong problem-solving abilities, good insight, and perspective taking, which would likely inhibit initiation of or engagement in delinquent behaviour.

This study examined the extent to which gifted adolescents use alcohol relative to their nongifted peers. Results indicated gifted students have, in fact, tried alcohol at rates that do not differ from nongifted. It is suggested that a high desirability of gaining social acceptance or fitting in with non-gifted peers or distancing oneself from a “gifted” image may explain why some gifted students use alcohol and others do not. However, results also suggest that although some gifted students were experimenting with alcohol use at an early age, they did not seem be doing so on a frequent basis.

Until the underlying reasons of alcohol use/experimentation among gifted adolescents are better understood and researched further, it is not clear whether current prevention and intervention programs are effective for this subgroup of adolescents.

Abstract

Adolescence is a period of development particularly vulnerable to the effects of alcohol use, with recent studies underscoring alcohol’s effects on adolescent brain development. Despite the alarming rates and consequences of adolescent alcohol use, gifted adolescents are often overlooked as being at risk for early alcohol use. Although gifted adolescents may possess protective factors that likely inhibit the use of alcohol, some gifted youth may be vulnerable to initiating alcohol use during adolescence as experimenting with alcohol may be one way gifted youth choose to compensate for the social price (whether real or perceived) of their academic talents. To address the dearth of research on alcohol use among gifted adolescents the current study (a) examined the extent to which gifted adolescents use alcohol relative to their nongifted peers and (b) examined the adjustment profile of gifted adolescents who had tried alcohol relative to nongifted adolescents who tried alcohol as well as gifted and nongifted abstainers. More than 300 students in seventh grade (42.5% gifted) participated in the present study. Results indicated gifted students have, in fact, tried alcohol at rates that do not differ from nongifted students. Although trying alcohol was generally associated with negative adjustment, giftedness served as a moderating factor such that gifted students who had tried alcohol were less at risk than their nongifted peers. However, evidence also suggests that gifted adolescents who tried alcohol may be a part of a peer context that promotes substance use, which may place these youth at risk for adjustment difficulties in the future.
Putting the Research to Use
This research demonstrates that a fruitful line of future research would focus on examining the potential mechanisms underlying alcohol use among gifted youth. Individual differences with regard to endorsing a high desirability of gaining social acceptance or fitting in with non-gifted peers or distancing oneself from a “gifted” image may explain why some gifted students use alcohol and others do not. Until the underlying reasons of alcohol use/experimentation among gifted adolescents are better understood and researched further, it is not clear whether current prevention and intervention programs are effective for this subgroup of adolescents.

Read this research for free

Article details
Peairs, K., Eichen, D., Putallaz, M., Costanzo, P., & Grimes, C. (2010). Academic Giftedness and Alcohol Use in Early Adolescence Gifted Child Quarterly, 55` (2), 95-110 DOI: 10.1177/0016986210392220

     
This entry was posted in Education, SAGE Insight and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.