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Underage Drinking A Bigger Problem In New Year’s Eve

December 30, 2010

The Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) said in a report that alcohol-related New Year’s celebrations send more young people to hospital emergency rooms than any other time of the year.

According to the report, 1,980 hospital ER visits in 2009 involved underage drinking.  That is nearly four times the daily average number of emergency department visits for drinking-related visits by people under 21, the report said. 

SAMHSA said it is two to three times the number of visits recorded on other holidays like Fourth of July weekend and Memorial Day weekend.

The study looked at all alcohol-related ER visits, but it did not specify whether they involved traffic accidents, alcohol poisonings or other issues.

The huge rise of drinking-related incidents on New Year’s “should startle us.  It should wake us up,” Peter Delany, director of SAMHSA’s Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, told USA Today.

He said that although any underage alcohol consumption is cause for concern, drinking can also increase the likelihood of other risky behaviors.

According to SAMHSA, the findings are in line with other research showing more alcohol-related problems over the winter holidays.

The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says that two to three times more people die in alcohol-related vehicle crashes during that time than during comparable periods the rest of the year. 

The institute also said that 40 percent of traffic fatalities during winter holidays involved an alcohol-impaired driver, compared with 28 percent for other dates in December.

Delany told USA Today that fueling the underage drinking problem is “a combination of greater access to alcohol, less parental oversight and mixed messages” about celebrating with alcohol.

Young people are told “don’t drink, don’t do that, but in every third commercial in recent weeks, we see something linked to alcohol and drinking,” he says.

And there is also the issue of “what kind of message parents may give,” Delany adds. “Maybe they’re drinking a lot. Kids see that it’s OK.”

What is needed is a long-term message “that underage drinking is not OK,” he told USA Today. “But adolescents don’t do well with ‘Just say no.’ We have to find ways to help young people make good decisions.”

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