May 10, 2011

Teen Drinking Linked To Computer Use

New research finds that alcohol use among adolescents is linked to the amount of time spent online doing recreational, non-academic activities.

The results of an anonymous survey of 264 teenagers showed that teens who consume alcohol spend more time on their computers, including social networking and downloading and listening to music, compared with teens that do not drink.

"While the specific factors linking teenage drinking and computer use are not yet established, it seems likely that adolescents are experimenting with drinking and activities on the Internet. In turn, exposure to online material such as alcohol advertising or alcohol-using peers on social networking sites could reinforce teens' drinking," said lead researcher Dr. Jennifer Epstein, assistant professor of public health at Weill Cornell Medical College.

"Children are being exposed to computers and the Internet at younger ages. For this reason it's important that parents are actively involved in monitoring their children's computer usage, as well as alcohol use.

"According to a national study conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, more than half of parents of teenagers had filters installed on the computers their child uses to block content parents find objectionable, yet many parents do not use any form of parental monitoring, particularly for older teens," Dr. Epstein said.

The survey participants ranged in age from 13 to 17 years old, and all resided within the United States.  

The results showed that teens who reported drinking during the last month used a computer more hours per week, excluding school work, than those that did not.  Alcohol consumption was also linked to more frequent social networking and listening to and downloading music.

No demonstrated link between alcohol use and computer use for school work was observed, nor between video games and drinking or online shopping and drinking.

"Going forward, we would like to collect more detailed and longer-term data on adolescent alcohol and computer use, including the degree and duration of their drinking habit," Dr. Epstein said.

Teenagers tend to start experimenting with alcohol at age 12 or 13.

Family risk factors include lack of parental supervision, family conflicts, inconsistent or harsh discipline and a family history of alcohol or drug abuse.

"Parents may also need to reinforce their family ground rules on alcohol use and computer use," Dr. Epstein said.

"This is an innovative study that is an important first step to understanding the potential impact that the Internet and new media may have on today's youth," said Dr. Gil Botvin, professor of public health and chief of the Division of Prevention and Health Behavior at Weill Cornell Medical College.

"The Internet offers a wealth of information and opportunities for intellectual and social enrichment. However, it is becoming clear that there may also be a downside to Internet use. More systematic research is needed to better understand to those potential dangers and how to combat them."

The research was reported in the online edition of the journal Addictive Behaviors.


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