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Alcohol Misuse among English Youth, Are Harms Attributable to Alcohol or to Underlying Disinhibitory Characteristics?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Paul McArdle, Simon Coulton, Eileen Kaner, Eilish Gilvarry, Colin Drummond

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)372-377
Number of pages6
JournalAlcohol and alcoholism (Oxford, Oxfordshire)
Issue number3
Early online date8 Dec 2021
Accepted/In press2 Nov 2021
E-pub ahead of print8 Dec 2021
Published10 May 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright: © 2021 The Author(s).

King's Authors


INTRODUCTION: Alcohol use by young people is associated with a range of psychological and physical harms. However, similar harms are also reported with disinhibitory conditions such as conduct problems that are said to precede and predispose to alcohol misuse. We explored whether alcohol use or indicators of underlying disinhibition predict psychological and physical harms in a cohort of young people. METHODS: We used data from a randomised controlled intervention trial that identified young people who consumed alcohol (n = 756), mean age = 15.6 years, attending emergency departments (EDs) in England. Disinhibition was measured by the self-report Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire hyperactivity and conduct problem items, and alcohol-related harms by questions from the ESPAD, a major European school survey. We conducted a mediation analysis with a primary outcome of frequency of engaging in alcohol-related harms 12 months after screening in ED, exploring for the mediating influence of alcohol consumed at six months. We included age, gender, allocated group and baseline consumption as covariates and adjusted for the multi-level nature of the study, where young people were nested within EDs. RESULTS: Conduct problems and to a lesser extent hyperactivity predicted harms at twelve months. This effect was not mediated by alcohol consumed at 6 months. CONCLUSIONS: Among young drinkers underlying behavioural attributes predict harm independently of alcohol use. This suggests that the harms associated with alcohol use are attributable more to underlying disinhibitory characteristics than the quantity of alcohol consumed.

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