Preventing teen alcohol abuse and violence

August 3, 2010 3:19:03 PM PDT
Alcohol and violence can be tough topics to tackle with your teenagers, but there is a right time to discuss them, when the message will really hit home.

Communities and organizations wanting to help teenagers make better choices may be looking at a study released today from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) for guidance. Surprisingly, a way to reach a teenager involved with alcohol, violence or both is the emergency room.

The teenage years can be wonderful, confusing, and sometimes even dangerous, particularly when alcohol or weapons enter the scene. In 2006, there were nearly 20 million visits to the emergency room by young people between the ages of 15 and 24, and that makes the E.R. an important point of contact for teens at risk.

"We aimed to provide a brief intervention during the time that teens ware in the emergency department to decrease their future violence and alcohol misuse over the next several months," said Dr. Rebecca M. Cunningham of University at Michigan Ann Arbor.

Dr. Cunningham and her colleagues ran the experimental project at Hurley Hospital in Flint, Michigan. Over 33 hundred teens between the ages of 14 and 18 were targeted at some point in their E.R. visit.

"We randomly assigned them to 3 conditions, one was a therapist brief intervention, the second was a brief intervention delivered exclusively by a computer with audio," said Dr. Maureen A. Walton, of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

The third group of participants simply got a brochure.

"It's a non-judgmental way to get teens to evaluate the goals in their life, their risk behaviors and then try to see the discrepancies between those and way that they can stay safe," said Dr. Cunningham of the goal of the study.

At three and six months, the teens were visited and re-evaluated with a self-administered questionnaire. They answered questions on their alcohol use, violence encountered, and their risky behavior. The answers were compared with the control group who simply got the brochure.

"The therapist breif intervention showed twice the reduction in peer violence, peer vicimization and violence consequences than the control," said Dr. Walton.

The teens that were talked to had only half the behaviors, including violence, compared to those who just read the brochure.

"Its important as we talk to teens to help them realize that there are way that it's possibel to change behaviors and it's possible to stay out of and get of the risky situations that they may encounter," Dr. Cunningham said.