Dec. 30, 2010 -- Underage drinking is a major problem in the U.S., but it worsens on holidays, especially on New Year’s Day, when it causes many hundreds of preventable trips to emergency rooms, a new study finds.
Causes for such emergency department visits range from overconsumption to alcohol-related accidents or injuries, according to the study by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
The number of ER visits by underage drinkers was much higher on New Year’s Day in 2009 than on several other holidays, as well as on an average day during the year, the report says.
Underage Drinking Worse on New Year’s Day
According to SAMHSA data, 1,980 emergency room visits involved underage drinkers on New Year’s Day in 2009, more than twice the 942 reported daily average over the Fourth of July weekend.
The report also says underage drinkers made more than three times the number of emergency department visits on New Year’s Day in 2009 than the daily average during Memorial Day weekend.
In percentage terms, the number of ER visits by underage drinkers was 263% higher on New Year’s Day in 2009 than on an average day during that year.
Wake-Up Call to Parents About Underage Drinking
The findings represent a “stunning increase in underage drinking-related” hospital visits on New Year’s Day, compared to other days, and “should be a wake-up call to parents, community leaders, and all caring adults about the potential risks our young people face for alcohol-related accidents, injuries, and death during this time of year,” SAMHSA administrator Pamela S. Hyde, JD, says in a news release.
Kenneth R. Warren, PhD, acting director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, describes the findings as “very troubling.”
Two to three times more people die in alcohol-related crashes during the Christmas-New Year’s period than in comparable periods the rest of the year, he says. “And 40% of traffic fatalities during these holidays involve a driver who is alcohol-impaired, compared to 28% for the rest of December.”
What Parents Can Do About Underage Drinking
According to SAMHSA, parents and others concerned about underage drinking should:
- Talk with children early and often about the dangers of alcohol consumption.
- Parents, teachers, clergy, coaches, and other role models of youngsters should discuss the impact of alcohol consumption on physical and mental health.
- Parents should be aware that young people may drink more on New Year’s than most other times of the year, including other holidays.
- Be aware that young people get mixed messages from parents about alcohol consumption. Peer pressure to drink also should be taken into account.
Educational information and materials on how to help prevent underage drinking are available at http://www.underagedrinking.samhsa.gov/.