If you wait until your children are in middle school to talk to them about the dangers of alcohol, you may be too late.
That's the message being echoed this fall by educators and substance-abuse experts in the wake of a study released at the start of the school year in which 7% of fourth-graders said they've had an alcoholic drink in the past year.
Ten percent had more than a sip of alcohol in that time period, according to the study authored by John Donovan, an associate professor of psychiatry and epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. It was published in the September issue of Prevention Science.
The largest jump in underage alcohol use happens between fifth and sixth grade, when many children begin middle school, the researchers concluded after conducting a review of national and statewide surveys.
"There is a fairly sizable amount of literature showing that the earlier people start to drink, or even have their first drink, the more likely they are to have problems later in life with alcohol, drugs, delinquency, risky sexual behavior (and) motor vehicle accidents," Donovan says.
"Alcohol is the drug of choice for children," says Mary Easley, the first lady of North Carolina and co-chair of the Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol Free, a coalition of governors' spouses working with public and private agencies.
"Peer pressure plays a role, but strong parental involvement early on can counteract it," she says.
Maybe all that explains this story:
In a study of adolescents, slightly more than one in seven tested positive on a substance abuse screening questionnaire administered during a routine visit to their doctor, researchers found.
Substance use by adolescents is "among the foremost public health problems in the United States," the researchers note in a report in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine released today. By their senior year, roughly 80 percent of adolescents have begun to drink and half have used an illegal drug.
Drug and alcohol use is associated with the top causes of death among U.S. teenagers: unintentional injuries, homicides, and suicides, Dr. John R. Knight of Harvard Medical School and Children's Hospital, Boston, and colleagues also point out.
"Physicians should screen adolescents presenting for either routine care or sick care, whenever possible," Knight said. "Early identification and intervention of adolescent substance use presents the greatest opportunity for reducing the burden of addictive disorders later in life," he and colleagues emphasize in their report.
Or maybe a lot of it starts before the kid even makes it into the world:
Women who drink alcohol while pregnant risk having children with behavior problems, according to results of a study published today.
Past studies have linked alcohol exposure before birth to a number of problems in children including conduct problems, criminal behavior, and attention and impulse control issues, the investigators note. However, questions have been raised about the strength of some of these associations, given that some of the studies did not consider other factors that could influence a child's behavior.
"Our study provides some of the strongest evidence that prenatal alcohol exposure causes conduct problems in children," Dr. Brian M. D'Onofrio of Indiana University, Bloomington told Reuters Health.
Results revealed that children who were more frequently exposed to prenatal alcohol had more conduct problems than their own siblings who were exposed to less alcohol during pregnancy. The association persisted even after factoring in other variables such as the mother's drug use during pregnancy, education level and intellectual ability.
The findings, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, "strongly support the importance of public health efforts to reduce alcohol consumption among pregnant women," D'Onofrio told Reuters Health.
And don’t get us started on the college kids who whack themselves up worse after mixing booze with “energy drinks.”
God, what a world.