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Half of All Booze Misused or Abused

Abuse-Among teens And Adults-Accounts For 50% of Alcohol Use In U.S.
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"What we also found is that the average age that kids start drinking is 14," Foster tells WebMD. "That's disturbing when you consider that we know from previous research that kids who start drinking before age 21 are two times more likely to develop later alcohol problems. And if they start before age 15, they are four times more likely to later become alcoholics compared [with] kids who didn't drink until later."

Underage drinking is already implicated in the three leading causes of teenage death -- car accidents, homicide, and suicide. And recent studies suggest that teen drinking increases the risk of brain damage, says Mary C. Dufour, MD, MPH, deputy director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

"This new finding is certainly scary, but I can't say that I'm surprised by it," she tells WebMD. "We've long known that underage and excessive adult drinking are serious problems. Hopefully, this will serve as a wake-up call to parents, who need to know that underage drinking is not a rite of passage or a teen ritual that is to be expected. It's a very serious problem that leads to many health consequences."

But it doesn't have to. Another study just released suggests that teens whose parents closely monitor their activities and friends are less likely to use alcohol or to be in risky situations involving alcohol. That finding appears in the new issue of American Journal of Health Behavior.

"These are parents who have made it clear, from the get-go, that they want to know where their kids are, what they are doing, and who they're doing it with," says researcher Kenneth H. Beck, PhD, of the University of Maryland, who headed that study. "But you need to start this parental monitoring early -- before your child goes into middle school or high school."

His advice: "Get to know the parents of your teens' friends. You want to establish a mutual collaboration," he tells WebMD. "Very often, when kids go to elementary school, parents know the parents of their children's friend. But once they get into middle school & high school, the friendship network expands, but the parents input in it doesn't."

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