Saturday, June 8, 2013

SATURDAY REWIND: Who is teaching the kids when summer break arrives? (And the rest of the year, for that matter?)

School is on summer break, officially, for most kids.  The older they grow, the more varied the influences in their lives become.  Summer break may mean more time with friends out of earshot of educators and out of sight of parents.   It may be easier and less embarrassing or uncomfortable to just let the schools and TV public service announcements advise the generation about drinking's hazards... but peers hold a lot of sway.  And so do advertisers (see yesterday's blog post).  What makes the difference is not waiting for teachers or government or entertainers to guide them, according to this article from the alcohol research news archive.  It's a long way of saying, they STILL listen even when you don't think teens ARE hearing.

Parental involvement does more to discourage underage drinking than the school environment can, according to research released December 4 by three universities.

Specifically, the researchers looked at how “family social capital” and “school social capital” changed the chances for and/or frequency of alcohol use by children. Family social capital can be described as the bonds between parents and children, such as trust, open lines of communication and active engagement in a child’s life. School social capital captures a school’s ability to serve as a positive environment for learning, including measures such as student involvement in extracurricular activities, teacher morale and the ability of teachers to address the needs of individual students. Parenting is a better block to underage drinking than the schools, according to the North Carolina State University news release on the study.

"To be clear, school programs that address alcohol and marijuana use are definitely valuable, but the bonds parents form with their children are more important. Ideally, we can have both," says Dr. Toby Parcel, a professor of sociology at NC State and co-author of a paper on the work.

The researchers looked at data from a nationally representative sample that collected information from more than 10,000 students, as well as their parents, teachers and school administrators. The research, to be included in the quarterly Journal of Drug Issues, evaluated marijuana use and alcohol use separately.

“Parents play an important role in shaping the decisions their children make when it comes to alcohol and marijuana,” says Parcel. In both cases, researchers at NCSU (in conjunction with Brigham Young University and Penn State University) found that students with high levels of family social capital and low levels of school social capital were less likely to have used marijuana or alcohol – or to have used those substances less frequently – than students with high levels of school social capital but low family social capital.

More than 10 million American youth under the age of 21 drink alcohol, and more than a million of them are binge drinkers, according to the American Medical Association. One in four teens in the United States have consumed alcohol in the past 30 days. "Underage drinking should not be a normal part of growing up. It's a serious and persistent public health problem that puts our young people and our communities in danger," said U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Administrator Pamela S. Hyde in a related November 26 story. "Even though drinking is often glamorized, the truth is that underage drinking can lead to poor academic performance, sexual assault, injury, and even death." Teen drinking also can lead to alcohol abuse as an adult or the disease of alcoholism.
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Thursday, June 6, 2013

Vomit commercials, higher taxes and other ways to reduce teen drinking

You click on the TV and land right on an alcohol commercial.  Not a Bud Light spot from the largest beverage advertiser in the U.S. Anheuser-Busch InBev. (Yes, they spend more than Coca-Cola or Pepsi on TV spots.)  It is a teen in the alcohol ad, throwing up his girlfriend, not as in tossing her in the air but as in vomiting her up.  (The link to the ad, the second on the page, is here... WARNING: NOT for the squeamish.)

Parents and peers influence teen decisions to drink. However, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health research clearly indicates that alcohol advertising and marketing also have a “significant effect by influencing youth and adult expectations and attitudes, and helping to create an environment that promotes underage drinking.”

That's the research backing up efforts to limit alcohol ads during televised sports (April 18 in this blog), as well as the graphic, but effective, approach for the Spanish television public service announcement.  It's gross... lowbrow... and visually effective in a way that reaches teens on their love-to-be-shocked level with the message, “Every time you get drunk, you separate yourself from the things that matter.”

Spain's government-quoted figures claim that 65 percent of 14- to 18-year-olds in Spain drink regularly. (The minimum drinking age is 18, but 16-year-olds may buy beer and wine if accompanied by their parents.) The problem in the United States is nearly as pronounced, with one in four 12 to 20-year-olds having consumed alcohol just in the last 30 days. See the stats here

Graphic approaches like Spain's haven't been tried in the U.S. yet.  On May 13, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) launched a new TV/radio/print ad campaign called “Talk. They Listen.”  Rather than directed toward teens, the SAMHSA effort is intended to empower parents to talk to children as young as nine years old about the dangers of underage drinking.

Other efforts to curb underage drinking include voluntary bans on flavored malt beverages, also known as “alcopops,” and raising taxes to price alcoholic beverages more out of the same range as soda or bottled water.

An article posted November 21 on the website of the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) notes higher alcohol taxes discourage teens from drinking. "These taxes prevent and reduce drinking and death among young people, as well as among heavy drinkers," says David H. Jernigan, PhD, Associate Professor and Director, Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY), also at Johns Hopkins, who has conducted research on the effect of the taxes.

In a report prepared as part of the campaign to advocate for increasing Maryland’s excise tax, CAMY estimated that a dime a drink increase in Maryland's alcohol excise taxes would reduce alcohol consumption by 4.8 percent. "The impact could be even larger among youth, since they are less likely to be addicted to alcohol than older drinkers, and also have less disposable income — both factors that make them more sensitive to increases in the cost of alcohol," the report states.

"When alcohol is cheaper at the corner store than milk, orange juice or sometimes even water, it sends young people the wrong message," Jernigan says. "It makes alcohol look like an ordinary commodity when it is not." He notes that prices on alcohol used to be much higher than those on other beverages. The most important factor in the price drop has been the inability of alcohol taxes to keep up with inflation.  (See the complete article on U.S. Alcohol taxes.)

The Community Preventive Services Task Force recommends increasing the unit price of alcohol by raising taxes based on strong evidence of effectiveness for reducing excessive alcohol consumption and related harms.
The SATURDAY REWIND June 8 will look at a recent study on parenting and teen alcohol abuse.


Sunday, June 2, 2013


There are several reasons Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud notes in favor of attending some sort of self-help group. Attendance can help stave off relapse, but on a more basic level it provides a place to talk and to be heard and to be understood. It doesn't have to be the 12-steps. There are other alternatives, some are quite effective and might be a better fit given a person's location or belief system. The fact is regardless of belief system, we need a place to talk about The Things We Don't Talk About.
"I’m no shill for AA. The slogan factory drives me nuts. More about this in a moment. I hate the coffee. The Higher Power thing is tough for some people to swallow. Some people stay away from 12-step meetings because they don’t see themselves in the people around the tables or hear their stories told in the tragic stories of others. That is the point in going: To make sure you’re communicating what is stressing you before you go back to the drinking and become those tragic stories. You go because you don’t want to become The Alcoholic You Don’t Want To Be.
I screwed that one up, big time.
When I first went to a 12-step meeting, I was Alcoholic. No Doubt About It. But I didn’t hear myself as I presently was in the stories. I heard the horror stories. I was a functioning, maintenance drinker with a great job, two cars, etc. I didn’t have this low bottom I heard in the other stories. So I walked away, not realizing that that day could have been my bottom. Their stories of grief and shame weren’t me. I had great empathy for their ordeals. What I failed to see was that they were a gift, showing me where I was headed, not where I was. That these ordeals of theirs were mine if I didn’t make that day my bottom. They were the Alcoholics I Didn’t Want To Be.
At the dawn of AA in the 1930s, the makeup was men and women with low, low bottoms. Over the years, that changed mainly because those who had hit low bottoms were able to raise the bottom to a level where it applies to Alcoholics-in-training like me who hadn’t had a low bottom. Yet. I failed. I didn’t listen . . . there’s that communication thing again . . . to what they were saying that they, too, were one day in the same shape I was. And then I became the Alcoholic I Didn’t Want To Be a few years down the road. While we have to talk about the stuff we don’t talk about, it pays to listen. A lot. I go to 12-step meetings for this, but there are other options out there, too. Use them. Most are free.  All are free of excuses not to attend."


Saturday, June 1, 2013

SATURDAY REWIND: Why those egg-in-the-frying-pan anti-substance-abuse ads were flawed

"Just say no" means "Just say NOW" especially when it comes to alcoholics.  This article from my news archive looks at how neuroimaging reveals that negative anti-drinking messages are received and processed differently by drinkers.

In November, neuroscientists released a study on brain wiring that shows why negative messages about alcohol fail to discourage drinking among people who abuse alcohol or have the disease of alcoholism. Negatively framed messages don’t reach people with alcohol use disorders, “the ones most in need of persuasion,” suggests a new study in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors by researchers from Indiana University and Wayne State University, near Detroit, Michigan.

The study revealed that the region of the brain assessing risk is different in alcoholics and they process the message differently than those who are not. Using neuroimaging techniques, the researchers examined the impact of different messages on the brains of substance-dependent individuals and compared them to their effects on non-substance-dependent individuals. The substance-dependent group showed less brain activity in that region in response to the “booze-is-bad” messages that also led to significantly worse and riskier decisions in the alcoholic group than in the non-user group.

"The findings are somewhat ironic because a whole lot of public service announcements say, 'Drugs are bad for you,' 'Just say no,' or 'This is your brain on drugs' with an image of an egg frying," said principal investigator Joshua Brown, associate professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences in Indiana University-Bloomington's College of Arts and Sciences. "What we're seeing is that negative messages are not having the same impact on the brain."

The findings suggest that the level of brain activity in regions of the brain that assess risk is lower in substance-dependent individuals than those who are not alcohol-dependent. These two groups process the messages differently, particularly those messages that emphasize what the alcoholic can lose or what he or she will fail to gain.

Social and medical expenses and lost productivity associated with alcohol-related problems cost $223 billion annually, so the messaging may need to adjust, this study indicates. “The government spends millions every year trying to discourage drug use, and a lot of the ads highlight the dangers of drinking and drugs," Brown said. "Should we spend more to highlight the benefits of staying clean instead?"
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