The role of personal meaning and multiple risk and protective factors in adolescent alcohol abuse

James K. Giese, Marquette University


Clinicians and researchers interested in the etiology of adolescent substance abuse are offering increasingly complex theoretical frameworks to organize the multiple antecedents of alcohol abuse. This study formally integrated two approaches for the first time. The first approach, Multiple-Risk-Factor Theory , suggests that it is the accumulation of multiple risk factors that leads to alcohol abuse and the accumulation of multiple protective factors that offset alcohol abuse. The second approach used in this study has grown out of Cognitive-Structural Theory and research on the development of social cognition in particular. The central variable from Levitt, Selman and Richmond's (1991) psychosocial theory of risk-taking is Personal Meaning , which is defined as the developmental level at which an adolescent can anticipate the personalized impact of a risk-taking behavior. As predicted, (a) the number of risk factors present for an adolescent was positively related to alcohol abuse and (b) protective factors and (c) personal meaning were inversely related to alcohol abuse. A significant 3-way interaction between risk, protection and personal meaning indicated that protective factors buffered the effects of risk on alcohol abuse for adolescents with higher levels of personal meaning, however this was less evident for adolescents with lower levels of personal meaning. Personal meaning seemed to potentiate or catalyze the protective factors present in the adolescent's life. The study demonstrates the importance of considering how adolescents understand the potential consequences of alcohol abuse. The implications for alcohol abuse prevention programs as well as individual and group therapy with adolescents are discussed.

Recommended Citation

Giese, James K., "The role of personal meaning and multiple risk and protective factors in adolescent alcohol abuse" (1998). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9912725.