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Prevent Binge Drinking: A Talk May Do the Trick

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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.

The most recent survey results, an update of previous ones done in 1993 and 1997, were compiled from responses by 14,000 students at almost 120 colleges. It found an increase in frequent binge drinking. However, it did note some good news. Abstinence from alcohol has also increased and 56% of the students either don't drink at all or don't binge.

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