Stories about: Center for Adolescent Substance Abuse Research

When docs talk about alcohol use, teens listen

Arms crossed, eyes rolled, heavy sighs. Teens’ body language often suggests utter disregard for adults’ advice. The phenomenon may peak during discussions about substance use, which is one reason some pediatricians may bypass substance abuse counseling during annual visits. Yet the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends physicians screen all adolescents for alcohol at least once a year. New research from the Center for Adolescent Substance Abuse Research (CeASAR) at Boston Children’s Hospital may allay physicians’ fears.

A brief computer-facilitated counseling session during an annual physician visit reduced drinking among teens whose friends drink or approve of drinking. In a study of 2,092 12- to 18-year-old patients, teens with friends who drink (those with peer risk) had reduced alcohol use at three-month follow-up, Jennifer Louis-Jacques, MD, MPH, from Boston Children’s Division of Adolescent Medicine, reported in a study published online Nov. 11 in Journal of Adolescent Health.

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Teen drug survey is a sign marijuana use could rise

Teenage girl in trouble with parentsThe federal government’s annual report monitoring kids’ alcohol and drug abuse has been released. The 2009 Monitoring the Future Survey reports that while use of cigarettes, methamphetamines, cocaine and binge drinking is down the use of prescription drugs and smokeless tobacco is up. Marijuana use is holding steady.

John Knight, MD, director of The Center for Adolescent Substance Abuse Research (CeASER) at Children’s says those findings aren’t particularly surprising. What we do need to worry about, he says, is that the survey also reports that adolescents’ perceived harm of marijuana is way down.

What exactly does that mean? Knight says that when adolescents think a drug has little or no harm, they are much more likely to use it. So, be ready for marijuana use to jump along with other drugs. “Marijuana is a gateway drug that leads kids towards all kinds of other drugs,” Knight says.

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Drinking early in life may trigger genetic alcohol dependency

drinkIn some cultures, it’s the norm to give kids a sip of wine or beer with dinner (Italians, for example, traditionally serve wine at the family dinner table). But recent evidence suggests the practice is not as innocuous as it seems. A study in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research finds that genetic predisposition to alcohol dependence may kick into gear when kids take their first drink at an early age. The researchers reveal that the younger an individual is when they take their first alcoholic drink, the greater their risk for alcohol dependence and the more relevant genetic factors become.

John Knight, MD, director of Children’s Hospital Boston’s Center for Adolescent Substance Abuse Research, hopes that this study brings attention to a troubling problem. “The brain is more susceptible when young,” he says. “There are greater opportunities for a longer period of time to cause damage to the brain.”

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A hard look at the drinking age

Recently, LA Times Health Blog Booster Shots reported that psychiatrist Morris Chafetz, who was on the presidential commission responsible for raising the drinking age to 21, called that “the single most regrettable decision of his career”.

John Knight, MD, director of the Center for Adolescent Substance Abuse Research at Children’s Hospital Boston, offers his thoughts on the drinking age, and how parents and physicians can best approach the issue of underage drinking.

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