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influencing current ones, which in turn influence future developments. A central tenet of lifespan models is that there is a dynamic, reciprocal interaction between the individual and his or her environment. Therefore, reducing risk behavior and promoting healthy pathways can only be accomplished through a fundamental understanding of the developmental and environmental factors that impinge on youths’ lives.

In this chapter, we do not attempt to review all of the literature concerning the multitude of factors involved in adolescent alcohol use. Instead, we focus on developmental and environmental influences, with particular emphasis on factors we consider most amenable to prevention and intervention efforts. We refer readers to other, more extensive and lengthy reviews that have already made significant contributions to the field (e.g., Dielman, Butchart, Shope, and Miller, 1991; Halebsky, 1987; Hawkins, Catalano, and Miller, 1992; Vakalahi, 2001).


Adolescence marks a period of great and rapid physical, cognitive, psychosocial, and emotional changes. All of these changes increase one’s desire for more autonomy and decision making, which can result in risk taking, including alcohol use. Understanding how these individual-level developmental factors relate to alcohol use is critical in order to create developmentally appropriate and effective alcohol prevention and intervention programs. In this section, we review adolescent physical, cognitive, and psychosocial development, with particular emphasis on how such development influences underage alcohol consumption.

Physical Development

Adolescent development is typically marked by rapid and extreme biological changes—namely, the onset of puberty and menarche. During this time, hormones, brain development, and the environment interact to result in increased growth, change in voice characteristics, and the development of secondary sex characteristics.

Puberty often signals changes in one’s own as well as others’ expectations for the adolescent. For example, taller and more mature-looking adolescents are often expected to be more responsible and take on adult roles and behaviors earlier than less physically mature peers of the same age group. However, depending on the age at which puberty occurs, the adolescents’ level of social and emotional maturation may not match their physical development. When this mismatch occurs, expectations for adult-like responsibilities may be met with negative or health-compromising self-perceptions and behaviors. For example, early maturing girls tend to show

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