Teen drinking, anger a bad mix

Thursday, December 27, 2007

High school seniors who drink alcohol to cope with anger or other problems already show a risky pattern of alcohol use that could continue later in life, a study reports.

More than three-quarters of seniors say they have experimented with alcohol, so the findings may not help prevent alcohol use in high school, says researcher Lori Palen of Pennsylvania State University. But such research might help identify high-risk teens before they develop a severe problem, says Zili Sloboda of the international Society for Prevention Research.

The findings in the December issue of the journal Prevention Science raise important questions for parents, especially during the holidays, Sloboda says. Some believe teen drinking is OK with adult supervision. But parents may not realize the teen brain is not fully developed and is especially vulnerable to alcohol's effects, she says.

Palen and her colleagues studied 1,877 high school seniors nationwide; 32% said they drank mostly for the thrill of it, and 15% said they used alcohol to relax. Another 36% said they drank just to experiment. Teens might experiment with all kinds of things, including alcohol, but they're not necessarily developing worrisome habits such as daytime drinking, Palen says.

A smaller group, 18%, said they drank for multiple reasons, including an inability to deal with frustration or anger. This group did show problematic behavior around alcohol: They were more likely to get drunk during the day, possibly during school hours. They also said they got drunk frequently; many had started to drink by sixth grade.

"There are a number of kids who start using alcohol early and use alcohol to deal with psychological problems," Sloboda says. Such teens might not listen to prevention messages that stress the dangers of alcohol. But these same kids might stop risky drinking habits or stop drinking altogether if taught more effective ways to handle frustrations, she says.

source: USA Today