Archive for March, 2013

Pre-college talk can lessen college drinking

Teenage college students are significantly more likely to abstain from drinking or to drink only minimally when their parents talk to them before they start college, using suggestions in a parent handbook developed by Robert Turrisi, professor of biobehavioral health, Penn State.

“Over 90 percent of teens try alcohol outside the home before they graduate from high school,” said Turrisi. “It is well known that fewer problems develop for every year that heavy drinking is delayed. Our research over the past decade shows that parents can play a powerful role in minimizing their teens’ drinking during college when they talk to their teens about alcohol before they enter college.”

Handbook Helps Parents

The researchers recruited 1,900 study participants by randomly selecting incoming freshmen to a large, public northeastern university. Each of the individuals was identified as belonging to one of four groups: nondrinkers, weekend light drinkers, weekend heavy drinkers and heavy drinkers.

The team mailed Turrisi’s handbook to the parents of the student participants. The 22-page handbook contained information that included an overview of college student drinking, strategies and techniques for communicating effectively, ways to help teens develop assertiveness and resist peer pressure and in-depth information on how alcohol affects the body.

Timing Is Important

The parents were asked to read the handbook and then talk to their teens about the content of the handbook at one of three times to which they were randomly assigned: (1) during the summer before college, (2) during the summer before college and again during the fall semester of the first year of college and (3) during the fall semester of the first year of college.

“We were trying to determine the best timing and dosage for delivering the parent intervention,” Turrisi said. “For timing, we compared pre-college matriculation to after-college matriculation. For dosage, we compared one conversation about alcohol to two conversations about alcohol.”

The results appeared in a recent issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

Drinking Escalates Without Intervention

“We know that without an intervention there is movement from each drinking level into higher drinking levels,” Turrisi said. “For example, non-drinkers tend to become light drinkers, light drinkers will become medium drinkers and medium drinkers will become heavy drinkers. Our results show that if parents follow the recommendations suggested in the handbook and talk to their teens before they enter college, their teens are more likely to remain in the non-drinking or light-drinking groups or to transition out of a heavy-drinking group if they were already heavy drinkers.”

According to Turrisi, talking to teens in the fall of the first year of college may not work as well; for many families it had no effect on students’ drinking behaviors. Likewise, adding extra parent materials in the fall seemed to have no additional benefit.

March 23rd, 2013  in Alcohol No Comments »

Parents, religion guard against college drinking

Religious college students report less alcohol use than their classmates – and the reason may have to do with how their parents handle stress, according to new research by a Michigan State University scholar.

The study found that students who used religious practices such as praying and meditating as a coping mechanism reported less frequent alcohol use and less heavy drinking.

Parents Affect Coping Practices

Further, the parents of those students reported using religious or spiritual practices when facing stress, which was linked to the behaviors reported by the students. This suggests the parents’ behavior had an effect on their children’s coping practices, said Zaje Harrell, MSU assistant professor of psychology.

“Parents face a lot of day-to-day stressors and what they do to cope with these stressors appears to be related to outcomes in their children,” Harrell said. “If you cope with those stressors in a way that is effective, it can show up in your children’s lives in ways you wouldn’t necessarily think.”

Binge drinking on college campuses has become a significant public health concern and previous research has shown a relationship between religious coping and alcohol use, the study says. Harrell is one of the first researchers to look at how parental coping and religious behaviors influence drinking outcomes.

Protective Factor of Religion

Harrell surveyed 129 college students and their parents for the study, which appears online in the Journal of Religion and Health.

Prior to the study, Harrell also predicted the students’ beliefs about alcohol norms and the social support they receive through religion would both protect them against heavy drinking.

Religious students did indeed have more conservative beliefs about when it is appropriate to drink alcohol, and this was a protective factor.

But Harrell was surprised to find that social support, which is often found in religious communities, was not a protective factor against alcohol use.

March 23rd, 2013  in Alcohol No Comments »

Missed opportunities for underage alcohol screening

Physicians often fail to ask high school-aged patients about alcohol use and to advise young people to reduce or stop drinking, according to a study led by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health.

In a random survey of more than 2,500 10th grade students with an average age of 16 years, researchers from NIAAA and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development found that 34 percent reported drinking alcohol in the past month. Twenty-six percent said they had binged, defined as five or more drinks per occasion for males, and four or more for females.

Teens Not Asked About Drinking

“While more than 80 percent of 10th graders said they had seen a doctor in the past year, just 54 percent of that group were asked about drinking, and 40 percent were advised about alcohol harms,” says lead author Ralph W. Hingson, Sc.D., M.P.H., director of NIAAA’s division of epidemiology and prevention research.  He adds that, among students who had been seen by a doctor in the past year and who reported drinking in the past month, only 23 percent said they were advised to reduce or stop drinking. The findings are now online in the  February issue of Pediatrics.

The researchers also reported that students who said that they had been asked about their drinking were more likely to be advised about alcohol.  Nevertheless, among the 43 students who said that they were drunk six times or more in the past month and who said they had been asked about their drinking by a doctor, about 30 percent were not advised about drinking risks, and two-thirds were not advised to reduce or stop drinking.

Screening, Intervention Works

The researchers caution that in the survey students were asked about past-month drinking, not what they may have told their physicians about their drinking.

Studies have shown that screening and brief interventions by health care providers – asking patients about alcohol use and advising them to reduce risky drinking –- can promote significant, lasting reductions in drinking levels and alcohol-related problems among adults.  Accumulating evidence supports the use of alcohol screening among adolescents.

Quick Screening Tool

In 2011, NIAAA and the American Academy of Pediatrics released a two-question screening tool designed to help clinicians overcome time constraints and other common barriers to youth alcohol screening.  Examples of these questions, which vary slightly for elementary, middle, and high school ages, include:

“Do you have any friends who drank beer, wine, or any drink containing alcohol in the past year?”

“How about you–in the past year, on how many days have you had more than a few sips of beer, wine, or any drink containing alcohol?”

“Alcohol is by far the drug of choice among youth,” says NIAAA acting director Kenneth R. Warren, Ph.D. “The findings reported by Dr. Hingson and his colleagues indicate that we must redouble our efforts to help clinicians make alcohol screening a routine part of patient care for young people in the United States.”

March 18th, 2013  in Alcohol No Comments »