Researchers have theorized that adolescents high in sensation seeking are particularly sensitive to positive reinforcement and the rewarding outcomes of alcohol use, and thus that the personality vulnerability is a direct causal risk factor for alcohol use. In contrast, the routine activity perspective theorizes that part of the effect of sensation seeking on alcohol use goes through the propensity that sensation seekers have towards unstructured socializing with peers. The study tests a model with indirect and direct paths from sensation seeking and participation in unstructured peer socialization to adolescent alcohol use.
Cross-sectional data were collected from 360 students in a state-secular Jewish high school (10th to 12th grade) in the center region of Israel. The sample was equally divided between boys (51.9%) and girls (48.1%), respondents’ age ranged from 15 to 17 years (mean = 16.02 ± 0.85). Structural equation modeling was used to test the direct and indirect paths.
While sensation seeking had a significant direct path to adolescent alcohol use, part of the association was mediated by unstructured socializing with peers. The mediated paths were similar for boys and girls alike.
Sensation seeking is primarily biologically determined and prevention efforts are unlikely to modify this personality vulnerability. The results of this study suggest that a promising prevention avenue is to modify extracurricular participation patterns of vulnerable adolescents.