Risky Behaviours

How is it defined?

Students evaluate risky behaviours by both perceived positive and potential negative consequences (Moore & Gullone, 1996). Adolescence is regarded as the time when individuals begin to engage in risky behaviours including substance use (DeWit, Adlaf, Offord, & Ogborne, 2000). The abuse of alcohol and drugs by youth is associated with low academic achievement, long-term negative health consequences, and poor life-course outcomes (Arthur et al., 2015; Krohn, Lizotte, & Perez, 1997; Oesterle et al., 2004). Moreover, gambling among youth is a growing concern and adolescents with gambling problems are more likely to take part in other risky behaviours (Gupta & Derevensky, 1998).

The Learning Bar’s framework on physical health outcomes includes measures of nutrition, physical fitness, risky behaviours, and sexual health. Risky behaviours include both basic and extended measures of substance use and gambling.

Why is it important?

  • Student involvement in substance use is negatively associated with academic test scores (Arthur et al., 2015).
  • Use of alcohol and drugs in adolescence increases the risk of pregnancy, teen parenthood, and dropping out of school (Krohn et al., 1997).           
  • The prevalence rates for gambling disorders in adolescents are greater than those found in the adult population (Gupta & Derevensky, 1998).

How do we measure it?

The Tell Them From Me® secondary school survey contains various individual measures that ask students about the frequency in which they engage in risky behaviours including: (a) tobacco use (b) marijuana use (c) the use of “other” drugs including ecstasy, crystal meth, inhalants, heroin, cocaine, and steroids (d) alcohol use, and (e) participation in gambling. The results are reported as “the percentage of students that use tobacco”, “the percentage of students that use marijuana”, “the percentage of students that have sniffed glue or used inhalants”, “the percentage of students that have used steroid pills or shots”, “the percentage of students that used ecstasy, crystal meth, heroin or cocaine”, “frequency of alcohol consumption”, and “the percentage of students involved in gambling”.

Extended versions of each measure go into greater detail and ask questions regarding the frequency of use, where and how the substance is obtained, if they consider themselves to be addicted, if they had tried to quit using the substance, who they would turn to for help if they wanted to quit usage, and the usage behaviour of their friends.



Arthur, M. W., Brown, E. C., Briney, J. S., Hawkins, J. D., Abbott, R. D., Catalano, R. F., ... & Mueller, M. T. (2015). Examination of substance use, risk factors, and protective factors on student academic test score performance. Journal of School Health85(8), 497-507.

DeWit, D. J., Adlaf, E. M., Offord, D. R., & Ogborne, A. C. (2000). Age at first alcohol use: A risk factor for the development of alcohol disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry157(5), 745-750.

Gupta, R., & Derevensky, J. L. (1998). Adolescent gambling behavior: A prevalence study and examination of the correlates associated with problem gambling. Journal of Gambling Studies14(4), 319-345.

Krohn, M. D., Lizotte, A. J., & Perez, C. M. (1997). The interrelationship between substance use and precocious transitions to adult statuses. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 38(1), 87-103.

Moore, S., & Gullone, E. (1996). Predicting adolescent risk behavior using a personalized cost-benefit analysis. Journal of Youth and Adolescence25(3), 343-359.

Oesterle, S., Hill, K. G., Hawkins, J. D., Guo, J., Catalano, R. F., & Abbott, R. D. (2004). Adolescent heavy episodic drinking trajectories and health in young adulthood. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 65(2), 204–212.