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Facts about addictions

2024-02-27 09:29:00

The HUN-REN Social Epidemiology Research Group, which conducts research on smoking and alcohol- and drug consumption habits of and use of digital media by young people, presented its activities to colleagues at this year's first Research Week at Corvinus in early February.

Budapesti Corvinus Egyetem

“Since it was established in 2019, our Research Group has pursued the goal of conducting studies on risk behaviours of young people and students to fill gaps. We have also involved young university students to enable them to learn about how to conduct field research and to gain experience” – Professor dr. Zsuzsanna Elekes, Leader of the Research Group, said. As it turned out, Hungary has been participating in the ESPAD (European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs) research effort since it was started in 1995, and the effort is aimed atcollecting data comparable over time and internationally on smoking as well as alcohol- and other drug-consumption habits, or, using a technical term, risk behaviours, of young people (in the 16 year-old age group) in Europe.  

The Professor explained: one of their important goals is to explore the alcohol situation in Hungary, as often uncertain data is available on it. She mentioned that, for example in 2020-21, they organised camps for young researchers, and students interested in the topic, to conduct small-sample regional questionnaire surveys on health-damaging habits – alcohol consumption, drugs, screen viewing habits – in two deprived districts. (Namely, the districts of Siklós and Záhony.) The Professor emphasized that young people are the most at risk in this regard, but relevant research is rarely conducted among university students, unfortunately. As far as she knows, such survey was conducted among police officers by the National University of Public Service in 2022. The Research Group led by dr. Zsuzsanna Elekes was also involved in two topics during the Covid-19, one of which was the effect on substance use of stress caused by the pandemic. This year, the Group will also deal with how topics related to risk behaviours are presented in the media. 

 

Experiences from a research camp 

Then, Miklós Hajdu, assistant professor at the Department of Sociology of Corvinus University, reported on the four-day research camps that were organised with the involvement of university students to explore health-damaging habits of the adult population in the Záhony and Siklós areas in 2020-21. As the residents to be interviewed had been selected on the basis of scientific criteria, students had to walk a lot in some of the villages to find the respondents identified. Each questionnaire took 60-90 minutes to complete, and students were faced with various problems here as well: some residents were reluctant to respond for having to take a long break from work. However, many residents were happy to be involved in conversations. Some students experienced that other members in the families of respondents also wanted to answer the questions. In some instances, students perceived that respondents were trying to give answers in line with social expectations.  

Tamás Felföldi, a bachelor’s student, also recalled his experiences: as he said, there were times when they asked people about risk behaviours respondents had never heard of. It frequently happened (as this is a region where they produce wine and pálinka) that interviewers were offered drinks or invited to a pub, which was difficult to refuse. In addition to participating in such camps, he has also taken part, together with other students, in a research conducted by the Research Group among university students. He had different experiences with the various higher education institutions: he encountered some minor resistance at some of them, but some other universities were very helpful. He conducted focus group discussions with alcohol- and drug users. “It is useful to join the university research programme, as it is easy to combine with your studies, you can gain a lot of experience, and it helps you decide whether you really want or do not want to be a researcher,” Tamás Felföldi said. 

Then, dr Zsuzsa Elekes talked to another member of the Research Group, Petra Arnold, research fellow at the Department of Sociology, about a nationwide representative research conducted by the Group on risk behaviours among young people. Kitti Kutrovátz (also a member of the Research Group) spoke about patterns in students’ leisure time activities. On these aspects, see soon our separate article. 

 

Almost one in ten students are severely affected by risk factors

Ágoston Horváth (assistant research fellow in the Research Group) talked about the consumption groups that have been identified linked to risk behaviours. Almost half of the students are affected to a less than average or moderate degree in terms of all examined substance use habits and behavioural addictions, while nearly one-tenth of them are severely affected in terms of all aspects. Surprisingly, the proportion of students with some kind of eating disorders is relatively high, averaging 23%. Young people in Budapest are affected by different addictions to a higher degree than those in the rest of the country; however, boys are characterised by higher levels of consumption in terms of all aspects. The amount of money available to respondents is an important aspect: higher income represents a risk factor in terms of being affected by risk behaviours in that target group. However, higher levels of life satisfaction is found to be a protective factor. 

Description  

Frequency (unweighted number of cases) 

Proportion (weighted) (%) 

Average level of being affected 

354 

32.4 

Moderate in terms of all aspects 

526 

44.0 

Medication- and drug use, problematic internet and social media use, eating disorder above average 

171 

14.0 

Seriously affected in terms of all aspects 

97 

9.6 

Total 

1148 

100.0 

Distribution of consumption groups 

 

In response to questions, the presenters said that the Research Group is already working on the way addictions are presented in the media. They agreed that ensuring visibility for the topic is very important, however, almost all of them criticised that one can hardly find an article that is based on truly objective facts. In their view, people referred to as experts in the media when making comments often communicate data that is so unreliable that researchers of the topic are taken aback. Mention was also made of a recent case of Hungarian portals translating an article by The Guardian on risk factors and publishing it with no comment. The researcher who brought up the topic believes that, although the newspaper is reputable, data and circumstances relevant to the UK cannot altogether be transposed to Hungarian conditions. 

(Picture: HUN-REN-CORVINUS Társadalomepidemiológiai kutatócsoport)

Katalin Török 

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GEN.:2024.04.19. - 15:07:20