Booster Shots

Oddities, musings and news from the health world

Category: alcohol

Emergency room visits linked to underage drinking are thought to jump over the July 4th holiday

July 3, 2010 |  9:00 am

Most July 4th-centric health warnings involve fireworks and the nightmarish consequences of setting off pyrotechnics -- death, loss of limbs, severe burns, etc.

L3159anc But the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration wants to warn people that that's not the only potential danger of the weekend. Hospital visits that involve underage drinking jump over the three-day Fourth of July weekend by a lot.

On a typical day in July 2008, 502 emergency room visits in the U.S. were linked with underage drinking, according to the Drug Abuse Warning Network, which monitors drug-related hospital emergency department visits in the U.S.

But on the weekend of the 4th, those numbers jumped to 938 visits per day, an increase of 87%.

"Underage drinking is not a harmless right of passage," said SAMHSA administrator Pamela Hyde in a news release. "It has far-reaching consequences. In addition to emergency department visits, injuries, arrests and embarrassment, 5,000 deaths in people under age 21 are linked to alcohol each year."

The agency, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, provides information on how to help prevent underage drinking.

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo: Underage drinking can end in an emergency room visit. Credit: Oliver Lang / AFP/Getty Images

Parenting style influences teen drinking patterns, researchers say

June 24, 2010 |  6:00 am

Teenagers alcohol parenting Some parents assume that teenagers will drink alcohol and there is little they can do to prevent it. Research does indicate that parenting has little effect on whether kids decide to try alcohol. But parenting attitudes and actions can make a big difference in how much and how often a teenager drinks.

Researchers at Brigham Young University surveyed 5,000 adolescents about their drinking habits and their relationship with their parents. They found the kids least prone to heavy drinking had parents who scored high on accountability (knowing where their kids were and with whom) and warmth. Having so-called "indulgent" parents, who were low on accountability and high on warmth, nearly tripled the risk of the teen participating in heavy drinking. The study also found that "strict" parents -- high on accountability and low on warmth -- more than doubled their teen's risk of heavy drinking. These results were apparent even when researchers controlled for other influences, such as peer pressure, religious and economic background.

"Authoritative parents tend to be highly demanding and highly responsive," the authors wrote. "They monitor their children closely and provide high levels of support and warmth. Our data suggest that peer encouragement to drink might have less impact when parents are both highly supportive and highly attentive."

The study is published in the July issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Lee Romney  /  Los Angeles Times

Young adults tending to a romance have less substance use

June 3, 2010 |  6:00 am

Marriage usually helps stabilize behavior. Studies show, for example, that people are less likely to use drugs and drink once wedded. The same behavior appears true of young adults in romantic relationships, according to a new study.

Love Researchers examined surveys of 909 people who were followed beginning in first or second grade up through two years after high school. They found the typical person of age 19 or 20 who not in a stable relationship was much more likely -- about 40% -- to use marijuana and drink heavily compared with someone who was in a relationship. The researchers controlled for other factors that affect drinking and drug use, such as employment status. The people who were not in relationships were less likely than their dating peers to have used marijuana or alcohol in high school, however.

"For these individuals, the new freedoms of early adulthood and lack of social control from a partner posed the greatest risks in terms of escalation of substance use," the authors wrote.

It could be that young people in relationships are getting support from their romantic partner that helps them avoid substances or that they are spending less time hanging out with substance-abusing friends or in bars.

"Even dating relationships activate mechanisms of support and control, although to a lesser extent than more serious relationship statuses of cohabitation or marriage," the authors wrote. "These findings show how bonding, adopting the behavior patterns of a partner and the interaction between these two processes influence substance use in early adulthood."

"I'm not saying that we should set up dating services," the lead author of the study, Charles Fleming, a research scientist at the University of Washington, said in a news release. "But it's something for parents to know and it's something for other people who are working with young adults of this age to know."

The study was published Wednesday in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Allen J. Schaben  /  Los Angeles Times

Risky alcohol-related driving behavior increases at age 21

May 31, 2010 |  1:00 pm

Underage drinking is a widespread problem and includes risky behaviors like drinking and driving or being a passenger in a car with a driver who is impaired. But a study shows that college-age youths take even more alcohol-related driving risks than underage drinkers. The study found a sharp uptick when students turned 21 years old, the legal age for purchasing alcohol.

DrunkDriving Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Public Health recruited 1,253 first-year college students to participate in a four-year study examining drinking behaviors. They found that, among 20-year-olds, 8% drove after drinking any alcohol, 20% drove while intoxicated and 43% rode with an intoxicated driver. At age 21, 63% drove after drinking any alcohol, 25% drove while intoxicated and 49% rode with an intoxicated driver.

Other studies have shown that freshmen in college tend to drink more than upper-classmen. However, risky driving behavior related to alcohol appears to increase with age among college students, perhaps due to reaching the legal drinking age or more access to cars. The study should be considered in the national debate about lowering the legal drinking age to 18, said the lead author of the study, Amelia M. Arria, director of the Center on Young Adult Health and Development at the University of Maryland School of Public Health.

"Our findings call into question the assertions of some advocates who claim that lowering the drinking age to 18 would be a useful strategy for reducing harm associated with alcohol consumption," Arria said in a news release. "The present findings are consistent with numerous prior studies showing that increased availability of alcohol is associated with a greater level of problems, especially underage drinking-and-driving fatal crashes."

The study was published Monday in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

— Shari Roan

Photo: High school students portray the living dead during the 'Every 15 Minutes' program, a staged drunk-driving accident to help illustrate the dangers of drinking and driving, in Roswell, N.M. Credit: Mark Wilson / Roswell Daily Record.

Hospital ER visits related to underage drinking, drug use jump sharply on Memorial Day weekends

May 28, 2010 |  5:40 pm

Visits to hospital emergency rooms triggered by underage drinking rise on Memorial Day weekends, while visits related to both underage alcohol and drug abuse rise even more, according to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The agency attributed the increase to partying to celebrate the begining of summer.

On an average day in 2008, the most recent year for which data is available, the agency said, there were typically about 519 hospital ER visits linked to underage drinking nationwide.  On the three days of Memorial Day weekend, the daily average rose to 577. Similarly, the average daily number of visits for alcohol and drug use combined was 156, but on Memorial Day weekend the number rose to 199 visits. The figures are based on data from the 2008 Drug Abuse Warning Network report, which monitors drug-related ER visits nationwide.

"Underage drinking poses an enormous public health risk -- approximately 5,000 people die each year from alcohol-related injuries connected to underaged drinking," SAMHSA administrator Pamela S. Hyde said in a statement. "Moreover, studies have shown that children who begin drinking before age 15 are six times more likely to develop alcohol problems than people who start drinking after age 21."

Information on how to help prevent underage drinking is available here.

-- Thomas H. Maugh II.

Mouthwash, perfume ... alcohol-sensing-anklet wearers are advised not to risk it

May 24, 2010 |  7:03 pm

Lohan Perhaps you haven't heard, being otherwise engaged with going about the business of living, but Monday actress Lindsay Lohan was ordered to wear a remote alcohol monitor at all times. And the device -- a 10-ounce anklet -- was strapped on right at the courthouse.

The story: Court orders alcohol monitor clamped on Lindsday Lohan

Rule-breakers might automatically wonder how to fool the device; skeptics might wonder just how sensitive it really is; and everyone else has probably moved on to other news. So for the first two groups...

The new accessory tests for the presence of alcohol in perspiration every half-hour, as this L.A. Now post notes. Here's an explainer of how it gets there, that is, alcohol's post-ingestion route, courtesy of

SCRAMx, the company that makes the bracelet, seems quite confident of its product's ability to discern alcohol use, explaining how it works, how it feels when taking a reading (slight vibration) and the list of prohibited products. It states:

Do not use or possess any product containing alcohol, including (but not limited) to: mouthwash, medicinal alcohol, household cleaners and disinfectants, lotions, body washes, perfumes, colognes, or other alcohol-based hygiene products.

The Washington Post describes one woman's court-ordered, anklet-wearing experience in this recent article; a reporter at that paper describes his own voluntary anklet-wearing experience in a separate piece.

An excerpt:

After my shower at 6 p.m., I administered my first test, "accidentally" spilling a capful of Listerine down my leg. I rinsed it off and half an hour later joined my wife for a shot of scotch whisky on the rocks. It was a little creepy knowing that a machine was about to catch me red-handed, or at least red-ankled.

A reporter at Pittsburgh's Tribune-Review tried a similar experiment, attempting to trick the device and then drinking steadily.
Thus far, the rule-breakers are outnumbering the skeptics (or, in any case, the idly curious), with most published accounts devoted to whether the device can be fooled, not its accuracy.

But alcohol is more common than you might think, found in a rather impressive array of otherwise pedestrian concoctions, as the American Coalition for Ethanol proudly notes -- and thus sensitivity becomes an issue.

One teenager makes clear why hairspray use, in any case, is ill-advised. The judge seemed understanding though... 

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: Lindsay Lohan appeared in court Monday.

Credit: Jae Hong-Pool / Getty Images


Asian Americans, alcohol use and what the numbers show (or don't show)

May 21, 2010 |  6:15 pm

Beer Asian Americans drink less alcohol and binge on it less frequently, not to mention consume fewer illegal drugs, than other Americans. But the generalities stop there.

A new analysis of Asian American subgroups, using data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, has found that Korean Americans are the most likely to consume alcohol in a given month and that Indian Americans are the least likely. Here's a closer look at past-month alcohol use among the various groups identified in the survey:

Korean Americans: 51.9%

Japanese Americans: 48.3% 

Chinese Americans: 41.3%

Vietnamese Americans: 38.7%

Filipino Americans: 38.1%

Indian Americans: 32.1%

The national average for all adults in the U.S. is 55.2%. The national average for Asian Americans is 39.8%.

When it comes to binge drinking over the last month, the numbers shake out this way.

Korean Americans: 25.9%

Filipino Americans: 15%

Japanese Americans: 14.5%

Vietnamese Americans: 14%

Indian Americans: 9.5%

Chinese Americans: 8.4%

Other ethnicity-related breakdowns by age,  gender and insurance status ensue. Here's the full alcohol use report, as offered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 

Those are the stats, in any case. The report doesn't paint a fuller picture.

It does, however, explain the relevance of such breakdowns in this way:

As the Federal Government and States move forward with the interrelated tasks of reducing disparities and reforming health care, it will be important to monitor data on substance use and treatment need among racial/ethnic minorities. The findings in this report highlight variations in substance use and treatment need between Asian adults and adults in the Nation as a whole and suggest subgroups that may benefit from increased attention from the prevention and treatment systems.

Wait. There is one more generality: Asian Americans born in the U.S. are more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs than are those born outside the U.S.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo credit: Los Angeles Times

Admissions for teen substance abuse treatment decline

May 12, 2010 | 11:49 am

A fascinating report examining the nation's battle with drug addictions released Wednesday shows marked changes over the last decade in which drugs are abused and who seeks treatment. Among the more eyebrow-raising findings is that admissions for substance abuse treatment among youths ages 12 to 17 declined 10% between 2002 and 2008. This plunge came after a 13% increase from 1998 to 2002.

The report, released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, was based on data from the agency's survey of state-licensed substance abuse treatment facilities across the nation. Most of these facilities receive public funding. The survey also showed that 79% of adolescent treatment admissions involved marijuana as a primary or secondary substance and almost half of the admissions were made through the courts.

Among people of all ages, opiate admissions increased from 16% in 1998 to 20% in 2008 while cocaine admissions declined from 15% to 11%. Marijuana admissions rose from 13% to 17% during that time and stimulant admissions (mainly methamphetamine) rose from 4% to 6%.


  • The proportion of treatment admissions attributed to drug abuse alone rose from 26% in 1998 to 37% in 2008 while the proportion of admissions attributed to alcohol abuse alone fell from 27% to 23%.
  • The proportion of admissions for abuse of both alcohol and drugs declined from 44% to 38%.
  • The abuse of two or more psychoactive drugs in combination accounted for 55% of admissions, typically alcohol and opiates.

In 2000, 24% of those 16 or older in treatment were unemployed compared to 37% in 2008.

The report, entitled the National Admissions to Substance Abuse Treatment, is available on the Web.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: SAMHSA

Researchers find a way to subtract 12 years from your life

April 26, 2010 |  1:01 pm

You know that smoking is bad for your health. Ditto heavy drinking, a slovenly lifestyle or a preference for chili cheese fries over fruits and vegetables.

Lakers Epidemiologists have linked each of these behaviors to increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke. But few people engage in only one unhealthy habit. (C’mon, what are you more likely to be snacking on while parked on the couch watching three consecutive NBA playoff games – carrot sticks and bottled water, or chips, guacamole and beer?) So an international group of researchers – including USC cancer epidemiologist Dr. Giske Ursin – studied the effect of all four bad behaviors at once.

What defines “bad”? Smokers fill that bill, while nonsmokers and former smokers did not. Men who consumed more than 21 8-gram servings of alcohol and women who drank more than 14 servings of alcohol were considered to have poor drinking behavior. Anyone who got less than 120 minutes of exercise each week was defined as having poor physical activity, and bad diets were those that contained fewer than 3 fruits or vegetables each day.

After tracking nearly 5,000 British adults for 20 years, the researchers were able to correlate these behaviors with risk of disease and death. (In case you were wondering, men and women, average age 43.7, were equally lazy, but men were more likely to smoke, drink to excess and skip the fruits and veggies.)

The researchers found that Britons who indulged in all four bad behaviors were 3.49 times more likely to die over the course of the study than their countrymen (and women) who practiced clean living. That included a 3.14 times greater risk of death from cardiovascular disease; a 3.35 times greater risk of death from cancer; and a 4.29 times greater risk of death form any other cause.

Overall, 96% of those with healthy behaviors were alive at the end of the study, compared with 85% of those with the worst health habits. “The increase in mortality risk from no to 4 poor health behavior was equivalent to an increase in chronological age of about 12 years,” the researchers wrote.

The study will appear in Tuesday’s edition of Archives of Internal Medicine.

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: Are these Lakers fans eating green salads while watching a playoff game at Busby’s sports bar? Doesn’t look like it. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Some alcohol ages well; some alcohol drinkers don't

April 23, 2010 | 11:38 am

Drinks With age does not necessarily come wisdom, not as it pertains to alcohol use. It would appear that far too many people age 60 and older failed to grasp some important lessons from those occasionally misspent younger years.

Researchers at UCLA School of Medicine surveyed 3,308 patients age 60 and older at primary care clinics in Santa Barbara, asking them about alcohol consumption and factors that might relate to it, such as medication use and whether they drive after drinking.

More than a third were found to be "at risk of harm" either because of the mix of alcohol with existing health conditions or specific medications -- or because of  the sheer quantity of alcohol consumed (and those related behaviors).
The researchers' conclusion:

"High-risk alcohol use was common among older adults in this large sample of primary care patients, and male Caucasians, those ages 60-64, and those with lower levels of education were most likely to have high-risk alcohol use of any type. Our findings could help physicians identify older patients at increased risk for problems from alcohol consumption."

Here's the full alcohol-and-older-drinkers study, published online this week in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, plus the news release hitting the high points.

And here's a recent Los Angeles Times story that may be of interest: You can cut back: Cold turkey isn't the only way to go. Research shows that many of us can analyze our own risk.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo credit: Los Angeles Times



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