Underage binge drinking at New Year

January 5, 2011 by  
Filed under ADDICTION

New Year’s Eve has always been known to be drinking occasion that cost lots of lives and health care expenditures due to traffic accidents. What is less known is that many of these cases involve underage drinking. According to recent statistics, ER visits due to drunken driving by the underaged is 263% higher at New Year than on an average day – the worst day of the year, in fact. But isn’t this a sad way of starting the New  Year?

Dr. Pete Delany of the US department of Health and Human Services is urging parents to carefully watch their teens during the holidays as well set a good example.

“They need to be paying attention to what’s going on. They need to know where their kids are going, if there’s going to be alcohol served, and give good role models for making sure that the kids see what it’s like to be safe on the holiday.’’

Binge drinking is a serious public health problem; 42 % of adolescents engage in binge drinking.  Its disadvantages for the drinkers are immense which may include poor performance in college or school or other acute and chronic diseases later in life.  In the worst case, binge drinking may lead to alcohol poisoning and even death.  Non-drinkers are also disadvantaged when caught in resulting accidents, crime and violence. 

Binge drinking takes place in college campuses especially in parties.  In fact even adolescents at 18 already engage in binge drinking.  This led people like the Amethyst Initiative to toy with the idea of lowering the legal age of drinking, currently 21, to perhaps lower underage college binge drinking.  This is on the assumption that if it’s legal to drink at 18, people will start drinking moderately like social drinkers do. (Like you won’t do what isn’t forbidden). A new study that will be published in the  Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, however, says otherwise.

The study did a survey and through a mathematical model evaluated the role of the „misperception“ effect.  ‘„Misperception“ is the idea that underage students widely perceive “normal” drinking levels to be higher than they actually are and that students would adjust their own habits if they were surrounded by social drinkers rather than binge-drinking party-goers’.  This „misperception“, according to the study, seems to be very important.   Researchers found out firstly, that lowering legal drinking may lower underage drinking in campuses surrounded by bars and where identifications are not strictly checked (and therefore heavy binge drinking takes place) if „misperception“ among adolescents is present.  Otherwise, binge drinking may increase in such campuses.  Secondly, in so-called “dry“campuses, that is, where there is stricter underage drinking law enforcement, „misperception“ has to be even stronger among adolescents.  In fact for the newly concepted law to be effective, misperception level has to be extremely large in the presence of higher levels of underage drinking law enforcement, according to the head researcher. 

It looks like lowering drinking legal age won’t really solve the problem of underage binge drinking. Data supporting misperception levels on adolescents are also necessary to have any basis for such a law.

In the meantime, parents should be vigilant about their children, now only those which are in college. Because alcohol use and binge drinking can start as early as middle school!

Summer health risks: are they for real?

July 20, 2009 by  

summerSummertime is really here. School vacation has already started. And though it’s nice and warm in many parts of the Northern Hemisphere, it can be scorching hot in others. So you want to spend time outdoors and get a little exercise. But what to do in the unbearable heat of the summer? First of all, we are warned of the dangers that come with summer and these are:

  • Sunburns
  • Dehydration
  • Heat strokes
  • Summer infections
  • Insect bites
  • Burns from barbecue and bush fires
  • Lighting strikes

However, despite all the warnings we see, hear and read, people shouldn’t be scared of venturing out and be active in the summertime. According to WebMD, the chances of fatality due to these summer health risks are slim. In fact, the following figures from the National Safety Council give us an idea of the actual risks:

The Danger Lifetime Odds
Death by car accident 1 in 228
Drowning death 1 in 1,081
Bicycle accident death 1 in 4,857
Death by excessive natural heat 1 in 10,643
Death by lightning 1 in 56,439


Traffic accidents

You’d think that because of the favorable weather conditions in summer that there’d be less vehicular accidents. Well, actually it is the nice weather conditions that make more people venture out and travel with the car, that make people drive faster than usual, that make more people drive less carefully. Related to traffic accidents are bicycle accidents. Cycling is a popular summer sport and accidents can lead to head injuries that are fatal due to non-wearing of helmet.


It is not surprising that the risk of drowning ranks second after traffic accidents. Swimming pools, lakes, rivers and the ocean are popular summer destinations.  It is estimated that at least 3,000 people drown in the US each year. Children under 5 drown more often in swimming pools, especially the family pool, rather than in the natural water bodies. More adults drown in the sea due to undertows, strong rip currents, and boating accidents. The U.S. Coast Guard recorded more than 5,700 boating accidents in 2002, causing 4,062 injuries and 750 deaths.

Excessive heat

Heat waves occur sporadically and excessive natural heat can only lead to death as a consequence of dehydration, heat strokes, and exacerbation of underlying chronic conditions such as heart disease and hypertension. This is, however, highly preventable. The key is drink, drink, and drink and stay out of the midday sun.

Summer infections and diseases

There are some infections associated with some, many of which are food-borne or insect-borne. In the US, the West Nile virus is spread by mosquitoes, whereas spoiled meat at the grill leads to food poisoning.

Rare but well-publicized risks

Lightning strikes and shark attacks are summer risks that are very unlikely to happen. However, when they do, they tend to get publicized and cause unnecessary alarm to the public.
According to National Safety Council spokesman John Ulczycki

“The topical rather than the important hazards tend to get the most attention. People may misinterpret or misunderstand where the real risk is.”

So let’s not use all the summer health risks we hear to refrain from being active this summer. We have to take care but we don’t have to be scared.

To put things into perspective….

“… for every one unfortunate who met his end in the jaws of a shark, at least 1,000 drowned; and while 201 people nationwide died of West Nile infection in 2002, car crashes killed nearly 43,000.

Coming next: ways of staying active despite the summer heat.

Ohoto credit: stock.xchng

Driving under the influence of … stress

April 7, 2009 by  
Filed under STRESS

drivingWe are not supposed to drive when we are under the influence of alcohol or certain drugs. But what about driving while under stress? You may think that stress and driving actually go together in one package. Tell that to the people driving to and from work everyday during rush hour. Tell that to the person standing still in a gridlock. Tell that to the mom who has to shuttle her little kids to and from school, to football practice, and so on.

But sometimes major events can drastically increase stress and anxiety levels that will in turn have adverse effects on performing daily routines, including driving. With serious consequences.

One of the most traumatic and stressful experience that Americans have had in recent years is the September 11 terrorist attacks. The incident had such long lasting effects on people’s psyche that researchers are just discovering now, 8 years later.

Psychologist Alexander J. Rothman and his colleagues at the University of Minnesota analyzed records obtained from the US Department of Transportation to see if there was any relation between geographic location and the rate of fatal traffic accidents that occurred in the three months immediately following the September 11 terrorist attacks… The authors found that there was an increase in the rate of traffic fatalities in the three months following the 9/11 attacks, but only in the Northeast, the region closest to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. A follow-up analysis showed that there was a significant increase in the rate of traffic fatalities in the months following September 11 in the state of New York. This pattern of findings is consistent with the premise that stress-related reductions in the quality of driving led to a spike in the rate of fatal traffic accidents.

The findings of the study indicate that living close to the location of a highly traumatic event leads to increased psychological stress. In turn, psychological stress can impair a person’s driving ability, an impairment that can lead to serious, even fatal traffic accidents. There is therefore a need to re-examine what we know about stress and driving. In addition, psychologists will be able to anticipate behavioural patterns in response to traumatic experiences. The results of the study have been published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

I cannot drive effectively when I am under stress, even it is not necessarily due to a major traumatic experience. The stress of work and family responsibilities can sometimes be too much. That is why I prefer to take the public transport. Less stress, less damage to the environment.

Photo credit: stock.xchng

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.