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Teen Drinking and Behavior Problems

Teens Who Drink Get Into More Trouble, Study Finds

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Updated April 01, 2012

Adolescents, age 12 to 17, who use alcohol are more likely to report behavioral problems, especially aggressive, delinquent and criminal behaviors, according to findings of a new study released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

The new report, Patterns of Alcohol Use Among Adolescents and Associations with Emotional and Behavioral Problems, concludes that there is a strong relationship between alcohol use among youth and many emotional and behavioral problems, including fighting, stealing, driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, skipping school, feeling depressed, and deliberately trying to hurt or kill themselves. These findings are based on adolescent self-reporting of behavioral/emotional problems that occurred the past six months.

The study further revealed that adolescent alcohol users -- regardless of whether they are heavy, binge, or light drinkers -- report they are more likely to use illicit drugs than non-drinkers. Adolescents who were current heavy drinkers were 16 times more likely than non-drinkers to have used an illicit drug in the past month. Light drinkers were eight times more likely to have used an illicit drug in the past month than non-drinking adolescents.

A Cry for Help?

"Underage drinking -- even so-called light drinking -- is dangerous, illegal, and must not be tolerated," said SAMHSA Administrator Nelba Chavez, Ph.D. "This study points out that the effects of underage alcohol use extend far beyond 'drinking and driving.' Parents need to know that alcohol use can also be a warning sign or a cry for help that something is seriously wrong in a child's life."

Dr. Chavez continued, "If parents, counselors, teachers, coaches and other caring adults reach children early enough, they can intervene before troubling behaviors lead to serious emotional disturbances, illicit drug use, school failure, family discord, violence, or even suicide. With 10.4 million current underage drinkers, the magnitude of the problem is clear. Unfortunately, the rates of underage drinking have not changed significantly since 1994.

Other findings in the report include: Adolescents who reported that they drank heavily were four times more likely to commit theft outside the home than non-drinking adolescents; heavy drinkers among 12 to 17-year-olds were three times more likely to report deliberately trying to hurt or kill themselves than the adolescent non-drinkers; and adolescent heavy drinkers were three times more likely to report having gotten into a physical fight than non-drinkers.

Trouble Brewing

Analysis of the survey data showed that heavy-drinking adolescents were six times as likely as non-drinkers to report skipping school; and adolescents who drank heavily were three times as likely to report engaging in destruction of property belonging to others than non-drinkers, and five times more likely to reported running away from home.

Adolescents in the survey also revealed that heavy drinkers were 7.5 times more likely than non-drinkers to report that they had been arrested and charged with breaking the law. Heavy and binge-drinking adolescents were five times more likely than non-drinkers to say that they had driven under the influence of alcohol in the past year, and were four times more likely to report that they had gotten behind the wheel under the influence of drugs.

The study defined heavy drinkers as those who consumed five or more drinks per occasion on five or more days in the previous 30 days; binge drinkers consumed five or more drinks on at least one occasion, but no more than four occasions during the previous 30 days; light drinkers consumed at least one, but fewer than five drinks on any occasion during the previous 30 days; and non-drinkers did not drink alcohol in the previous 30 days.

Source: SAMSHA Press Release.

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