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There is concern about the negative impact of modern consumer culture on young people's mental health, but very few studies have investigated associations with substance use. In those which have, positive associations have been attributed to attempts to satisfy the unmet needs of more materialistic individuals.
This study examines associations between different dimensions of consumerism and tobacco and alcohol use among Scottish early adolescents.
2937 (92% of those eligible) secondary school pupils (ages 12–14) completed questionnaires in examination conditions. Analyses were restricted to those with complete data on all relevant variables (N=2736 smoking; N=2737 drinking).
Dependent variables comprised ever smoking and current drinking. Measures of consumerism comprised number of ‘premium’ (range 0–7) and ‘standard’ (range 0–5) material possessions and three Consumer Involvement subscales, ‘dissatisfaction’, ‘consumer orientation’ and ‘brand awareness’ (each range 3–12). Analyses also included school-year group and family affluence.
Ever smoking and current drinking were both more prevalent among adolescents with more ‘premium’ and ‘standard’ material possessions, greater consumer ‘dissatisfaction’ and ‘brand awareness’ (mutually adjusted analyses including school-year group and family affluence). The strongest relationships occurred for ‘brand awareness’: for each unit increase in ‘brand awareness’ the ORs (95% CI) of ever smoking were 1.17 (1.08 to 1.26) and 1.23 (1.14 to 1.33) in males and females, respectively; and those for drinking were 1.15 (1.08 to 1.23) and 1.21 (1.13 to 1.30). ‘Brand awareness’ had an equal or stronger relationship with both smoking and drinking than did family affluence.
These results suggest aassociations between consumerism and both smoking and drinking might arise because adolescent identities incorporate both consumerism and substance use, or be the result of promotion (indirectly in the case of tobacco) linking consumerist or aspirational lifestyles with these behaviours.