Drunk driving among teenagers


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Drunk driving has become an issue of great concern among teenagers. Over the years, there have been efforts to reduce teenage drunk driving. However, these efforts seem futile because young people still engage in drunk driving despite the intervention from their parents or teachers. The persistence of drunk driving among teenagers has become an issue that requires a deeper understanding. Exploring the theories that explain how the persistent behavior developed among young people can help in developing better strategies to prevent drunk driving among teenagers. Teenage drunk driving can register numerous adverse effects by placing the lives of the teenagers at risk. This paper will explore how the social learning theory, the theory of operant conditioning, and Erikson’s psychosocial theory explain the persistence of teenage drunk driving.


The social learning theory explains how individuals embrace or acquire knowledge in the form of skills, behavioral attitudes, and belief systems. Bandura explains that the social learning theory focuses on understanding how human learning takes place in a social environment (Akers & Jensen, 2009). Individuals acquire new behavioral patterns by imitating their peers or those in their social network. In the case of drunk driving, teenagers are likely to imitate the behavior of people in their social network. Particularly, if teenagers consider certain people as potential role models, then they will emulate their examples. Notably, the concept of self-efficacy also explains how individuals embrace certain behaviors. Self-efficacy gives individuals the confidence regarding their abilities. If teenagers observe their role models engaging in drunk driving, they will acquire that behavior through emulation.

The theory of operant conditioning represents a learning paradigm that determines whether individuals will repeat a certain behavior depending on its consequences. Under operant conditioning, individuals repeat certain behaviors if there are several factors responsible for reinforcing the behavior (McSweeney & Murphy, 2014). On the other hand, if there are factors that serve as punishment to the teenager, it is less likely that the individual will repeat the specific behavior in the future. Reinforcement is one of the consequences discussed under operant conditioning. Notably, reinforcement leads to the encouragement of the repetition of a certain behavior. Positive reinforcement presents desirable consequences while negative reinforcement presents undesirable outcomes. In the case of drunk driving, positive reinforcement triggers the persistence of the behavior. Particularly, teenagers receive an appraisal from their peers that serve as positive reinforcement. When that happens, the teenagers are likely to engage in the behavior in the future. Notably, any positive reinforcement will only motivate young people to continuously engage in drunk driving without recognizing the potential harm of the behavior (McSweeney & Murphy, 2014). The appraisal from peers convinces young people that they can engage in drunk driving and arrive at their destination safely. Unfortunately, this is not always the case with drunk driving.

The psychosocial theory also plays a critical role in explaining the persistence of drunk driving among teenagers. Erikson’s psychosocial theory discusses different challenges and crises that individuals experience in different phases or stages of life. Erikson highlighted that eight stages define an individual’s development throughout the lifespan (Engler, 2008). In each of the stages, there is an evident crisis that the individual must address. The theory is an effective approach to explaining the persistence of drunk driving. Adolescence is one of the important stages that Erikson described. Particularly, the ages between 12 and 20 compel young people to deal with an identity crisis. Notably, the identity crisis makes individuals vulnerable and susceptible to engaging in various undesirable behaviors. Many teenagers become overwhelmed by the identity crisis and embrace drunk driving (Engler, 2008). In their view, they think that drunk driving is a behavior that will reaffirm their newly found identity. As a result, they continually engage in drunk driving irrespective of the adverse effects.


The three theories discussed above help in understanding the factors that contribute to persistent drunk driving among teenagers. It is evident that these theories present a new perspective for parents and teachers to understand the cause of the problem. Notably, Erikson’s theory helps in understanding how young people face an identity crisis that may make them rebellious and motivate them to adopt irresponsible behaviors. Drunk driving is an irresponsible behavior that poses the lives of the young people at risk. There is a need to develop effective intervention strategies to reduce the cases of drunk driving among teenagers. Parents should work together with teachers in ensuring that they help young people to develop responsible behaviors and to overcome the identity crisis. Young people need to recognize the adverse effects associated with drunk driving and avoid the behavior completely.

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  1. Akers, R. L., & Jensen, G. F. (2009). Social learning theory and the explanation of crime: A guide for the new century. New Brunswick: Transaction Pub.
  2. Engler, B. (2008). Personality theories: An introduction. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
  3. McSweeney, F. K., & Murphy, E. S. (2014). The Wiley-Blackwell handbook of operant and classical conditioning. Chichester, Sussex, UK : Malden, MA : Wiley-Blackwell.
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