To describe the frequency and determinants of alcohol use in a representative sample of 13 years old adolescents, and to analyse qualitatively how adolescents perceive this issue.
Cross-sectional study with quantitative and qualitative components.
Two thousand and thirty-six adolescents attending schools in a city in Portugal were surveyed using a self-reported, structured questionnaire. The qualitative component of the study included 30 semi-structured interviews that intended to assess the reasons for and consequences of drinking as perceived by adolescents, and also the preventive strategies they suggested.
Overall, 50.0% of girls and 44.9% of boys reported that they had experimented with alcohol, and 4.7% of girls and 6.6% of boys drink alcohol at least once per month. Most adolescents recognised that drinking alcohol is harmful and an addiction which is difficult to treat, but this perception was not associated with their own behaviour. Adolescents only identified minor and temporary consequences of drinking alcohol, usually related to very high and acute consumption. In order to prevent alcohol abuse and its consequences, adolescents proposed measures based on strict control, legal restrictions and economic measures, some of which are already in place in Portugal.
A high proportion of adolescents had experimented with alcohol by 13 years of age, showing the importance of starting prevention at an early life stage. The results also reflect the importance of reviewing prevention programmes in schools, highlighting the importance of families.