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Prevent Binge Drinking: A Talk May Do the Trick

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Thomas Van Hoose, PhD, a clinical psychologist in the Dallas, agrees that parents must be involved in their children's' behavior when it comes to drinking. In the case of college binge drinking, unfortunately, too often parents are unaware of the problem until after something bad happens, he tells WebMD.

College-age children become involved with bingeing for a variety of reasons, says Van Hoose, who is also a clinical facility member in psychiatry at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. He cites peer pressure, especially if the student is a member of an organization where drinking may be encouraged. In addition, alcohol is in general more readily available on and around campuses.

Some students may use it as a self-medication to get over the breakup of a relationship, poor grades, or other problems. Many of these teenagers and young adults also have low self-esteem, problems with their parents before going to college, or a drinking problem in high school.

"It's difficult to tell what has the most influence, environment or genes," Van Hoose says.

Mark Goldman, PhD, agrees that family plays a strong role -- along with personality type. "There are certain people who are at higher risk for binge drinking -- those with a family history for instance. Also thrill seekers, those who like a lot of action. These are the people who like roller coasters and become jet pilots. It's not definite that they will get involved, but it's more likely. Goldman is a psychology professor at the University of South Florida and chairman of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism subcommittee on teenage drinking.

Those with a severe drinking problem need to be evaluated and may be treated with psychotherapy or medication and/or may need to be in a substance abuse program.

"They will need a lot of support," Van Hoose says. "Their parents have to be very actively involved in the intervention, and the adolescent must be willing to engage in treatment."

Last month, the institute released a 492-page report on the dangers of alcohol for all ages. It advises that research has shown that schools, parents, peers, policy-makers, and business can effectively reduce underage drinking -- if the intervention begins before kids begin to use alcohol. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Donna Shalala, says that research such as the Harvard survey shows the seriousness of the situation on college campuses.

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