Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Determinants of binge drinking in a permissive environment: focus group interviews with Dutch adolescents and parents

Astrid Jander*, Liesbeth Mercken, Rik Crutzen and Hein de Vries

Author Affiliations

Maastricht University, School of Public Health and Primary Care CAPHRI, Maastricht, The Netherlands

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:882  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-882

Published: 24 September 2013



Compared to other European countries, the Netherlands score among the highest of binge drinking rates of 16 to 18 year old adolescents. Dutch adolescents aged 16 are legally allowed to buy and consume low strength alcoholic beverages. This study focused on determinants of binge drinking in such a permissive environment from the perspectives of adolescents and parents.


Focus group interviews were conducted with adolescents aged 16 to 18 (N = 83), and parents of adolescents from this age group (N = 24). Data was analysed using thematic analyses methods.


Most reasons adolescents mentioned for drinking were to relax, increase a good mood and to be social. Also peers around them influenced and increased adolescents’ drinking. Comparing adolescents and parental statements about their perspectives how alcohol use is handled and accepted by the parents we found that generally, those perspectives match. Parents as well as adolescents stated that alcohol use is accepted by parents. However, when looking at essential details, like the acceptable amounts that children may consume, the perspectives differ enormously. Adolescents think their parents accept any amount of drinking as long as they do not get drunk, whereas parents reported acceptable limits of 1 or 2 glasses every two weeks. Parents further indicated that they felt unsupported by the Dutch policies and regulations of alcohol use. Most of them were in favour of an increase of the legal purchasing age to 18 years.


Parents and adolescents should both be targeted in interventions to reduce alcohol use among adolescents. In particular, communication between parents and children should be improved, in order to avoid misconceptions about acceptable alcohol use. Further, adolescents should be supported to handle difficult social situations with peers where they feel obliged to drink. Additionally, revisions of policies towards a less permissive standpoint are advised to support parents and to impede availability of alcoholic beverages for adolescents/children younger than 18 years.

Alcohol; Adolescents; Binge drinking; Focus group interviews; Parents