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Development Of Alcohol Use Disorders Can Stem From An Early Age At First Drink And Stressful Life Events

WASHINGTON ÑDowning five or more alcoholic drinks nearly every day isnÕt seen as a big problem for many of the nationÕs teens, says a new report.When asked if they see Ògreat riskÓ in drinking that much, almost half the teens questioned Ð 45 percent Ð didnÕt see it as a big deal.The study released Wednesday by The Partnership at also showed upward trends in marijuana and Ecstasy use among young people in grades 9 through 12.

ÒYouÕre seeing this weakness in this generation of teensÕ attitudes around drug and alcohol use,Ó says Steve Pasierb, president of the partnership. ÒItÕs not like this generation of kids thinks theyÕre more bulletproof than others, but they really donÕt see any harm in that heavy drinking.Ó

And while the numbers suggest many teens do not perceive significant harm in heavy drinking, the percentage of teens drinking is down.

ÒItÕs important that we not lose sight of the progress our country has made in fighting underage drinking,Ó says Dr. Raymond Scalettar, former chairman of the American Medical Association and a medical adviser to the Washington-based Distilled Spirits Council. ÒU.S. government data shows underage drinking and binge drinking are at record low levels.Ó

The partnership study also shows the percentage of teens drinking alcohol in the past month declining, down to 35 percent last year from a high of 50 percent in 1998.

Among teens, the average age when they had their first drink was 14, the study said.

Overall, 68 percent said they had consumed alcohol in their lifetime. Of those, one quarter of teens had their first drink at age 12 or younger.

ÒIt is much more terrifying these days than it was when we were younger,Ó says actress and mother Melissa Gilbert, national spokeswoman for the partnership.

Gilbert, the former ÒLittle House on the PrairieÓ star, is herself a recovering alcoholic who at one time was drinking two bottles of wine a night but has been sober now for six and a half years. She has faced drug-abuse struggles with one of her four sons, and she says she is doing everything in her power to make sure her youngest, now 15, knows the drama and pain addiction can bring.

ÒThe most important thing is to get to know his friends and stay in constant communication with the people that are around him all day Ð his teachers, his counselors at school,Ó Gilbert told The Associated Press in an interview from her Los Angeles home.

Being sober, she says, is the best way to live. ÒItÕs not the easiest, but itÕs definitely the best,Ó she said.

According to the study, teens said the top reasons for drinking were Òbecause it is funÓ and Òso they wonÕt feel left out.Ó

Pasierb says early drinking can often signal deeper problems. ÒItÕs about that vulnerability,Ó he said, ÒWhy is a 12-year-old drinking?Ó

Gregg Aguero of Houston, Texas, says he started drinking regularly at 13 after his parents split up. That led to cocaine and other drugs and eventually landed him in rehab for several stays.

Now 22 and in college, Aguero says heÕs been sober for 4 months and is trying to help teenagers avoid the mistakes he made.

ÒItÕs never too late,Ó he tells them. ÒThatÕs the most important thing. ItÕs never too late to turn and get help.Ó

Other findings in the study:

-Twenty-five percent of teens said last year that they had smoked marijuana in the past month. While that number is unchanged from the previous year, it is higher than 2008 and confirms an upward trend that ended nearly a decade of declines in pot usage among teens.

-Ecstasy abuse also continued an upward trend, with six percent of teens reporting past-month use Ð up from four percent in 2008.

The PartnershipÕs Òattitude trackingÓ study was sponsored by the MetLife Foundation. Researchers surveyed 2,544 teens with anonymous questionnaires that the youngsters filled out from March to June of last year. The study has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.

Based in New York, The Partnership at is formerly The Partnership for a Drug-Free America Ð perhaps best known for the Òthis is your brain on drugsÓ ads of the 1980s and 1990s. The group launched its new name last October, a move meant to position the partnership as more of a resource to parents and to avoid the misperception the nonprofit is a government organization.



Associated Press

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