Dr. Jacqueline Gerhart: Teen Drinking Still A Public Health Concern

UW Health Family Medicine physician Dr. Jacqueline GerhartMadison, Wisconsin - UW Health Family Medicine physician Jacqueline Gerhart writes a column that appears Tuesdays on madison.com and in the Wisconsin State Journal. Columns are re-published here with permission.


Dear Dr. Gerhart: Could you talk about teen drinking in light of all the high school seniors who will be celebrating graduation and preparing for college?


Dear Reader: All of us can use a reminder on teenage drinking. Let's go through the numbers.


According to the government's Report on the Prevention and Reduction of Underage Drinking published in July 2011, high school seniors have some of the highest rates of underage drinking. More than 50 percent of high schoolers reported having a drink in the last month.


More than 30 percent of 12th-grade boys reported "binge drinking" within the last two weeks - defined as the consumption of five or more drinks in a row. For 12th-grade girls, the number was 20 percent.


Alcohol is the most widely used substance of abuse by teens. In 10th graders, for example, 30 percent drank alcohol in the last month, while only 15 percent reported marijuana use, and 13 percent reported cigarette use.


So how does Wisconsin compare? In our state, 60 percent of teens ages 18 to 20 reported consuming alcohol in the past month, and 46 percent have reported excessive or binge drinking in that time. Drinking also is prevalent in younger Wisconsin teens - 7 percent of children ages 12 to 14 and 30 percent of teens 15 to 17 reported alcohol use within the last month.


Some other facts: The most common place for teenage drinking is in a private residence - often with parental knowledge. Those who start drinking at age 14 or younger are more likely to have alcohol dependence later in life. And, startlingly, of teens ages 15 to 20 who die in motor vehicle accidents, 25 percent of them have a blood-alcohol level over the legal limit.


Clearly, teenage drinking is a public health concern that our state - and our country - needs to take seriously. So what can you do about it? For parents, setting a good example is key. If you don't want your teenager to smoke, then you shouldn't smoke. If you don't want them to drink irresponsibly, then you should try not to do so - and you shouldn't provide them with alcohol.


Next, be real with them. Have a frank discussion with your teen about risky behaviors, and focus on minimizing the risk. Consider strategies to prevent them from getting into a car with someone who has been drinking alcohol, and not to take the wheel themselves.


If this is an uncomfortable discussion, consider having your teen make an appointment with a health care provider. We will confidentially discuss issues such as alcohol, drugs and sex, and will help to promote a healthy and safe lifestyle.


Health care providers are comfortable having discussions with teenagers without being judgmental. And unlike this article, we will not weigh them down with facts and figures. Instead, we will work with them to minimize risks and maximize healthy choices.


To our state's high school graduates: Congratulations! Be safe, and have a wonderful summer.


This column provides general health information and is not specific advice intended for any particular individual(s). It is not a professional medical opinion or a diagnosis. Always consult your personal health care provider about your concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort (including but not limited to any form of professional relationship) is implied or offered by Dr. Gerhart to people submitting questions.

Date Published: 06/05/2012

News tag(s):  jacqueline l gerhart

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