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Brief Chat May Reduce Violent Behavior in Teens

Youths in ERs Benefit From Advice From Therapist or Computer
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Aug. 3, 2010 -- Brief interventions with teenagers who show up in emergency rooms may reduce alcohol-based violence, whether they talk to a therapist while in the ER or get advice via computer, a new study indicates.

Lead author Maureen A. Walton, PhD, MPH, of the University of Michigan, tells WebMD that “a brief intervention” reduced peer violence and the consequences of alcohol use in teens six months after they were interviewed in an emergency department.

Alcohol and Teen Violence

Walton and her colleagues studied 726 youths between 14 and 18 who showed up in an ER in Flint, Mich.

The teens completed a survey on alcohol use and aggression in the past year.

A control group of teens were given a brochure discussing the risks of alcohol use  and community resources.

Others met with a therapist, and still others interacted with a computer that presented information about peer aggression, alcohol use, and its consequences.

All of the young people, who were paid to participate, were contacted three and six months later.

At six months, participants who had talked with a therapist and those who had interacted with a computer reported twice the reduction in alcohol-related consequences, such as fighting, as those who received a brochure, Walton tells WebMD.

She says the researchers did not design the study to determine whether a human conversation or interaction with a computer was better.

ER Visits a Teachable Moment

She says the researchers conclude that some type of intervention ought to be considered for youths who show up in emergency rooms and who might be inclined toward alcohol-related aggressive behaviors.

“We didn’t see reductions in use (of alcohol), but in consequences,” Walton tells WebMD. “We think this is exciting. We see such brief interventions as one piece in a larger puzzle of violence prevention.”

She says the research team hopes the interventions can be replicated in emergency departments around the country.

“The emergency department is an important contact point for medical care for adolescents, especially underinsured or uninsured patients,” the authors write in the study. “Adolescents seeking care in the emergency department are an important population for injury prevention based on increased risk of problems related to alcohol and violence."

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