Health
Thursday, September 2nd. 1999
Teenage drinking down, but still too high
By Dr. Anthony Policastro
Nanticoke Memorial Hospital

Whenever statistics are presented, there are many different ways to view them. That is true of a recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health. The study looked at drinking and driving among high schools seniors. The results were both encouraging and discouraging.
The encouraging part was that the statistics have improved since 1984. In 1984, 69.6 percent of seniors reported drinking alcohol in the last 30 days. In 1997, 50.3 percent of seniors reported drinking alcohol in the last 30 days.
In 1984, 41.3 percent of seniors reported having five or more drinks at one time (heavy drinking). In 1997 that number was 33.2 percent.
In 1984, 31.2 percent of senior reported drinking and driving. In 1997, the number was 18.3 percent.
In 1984, 44.2 percent of seniors reported riding with a drinking driver. In 1997, that number was 26.1 percent.
In the last 15 years there has been improvement in all four areas. Another encouraging thing is that the statistics for drinking and driving have dropped more than the statistics for drinking in general. That suggests that at least a portion of the adolescent population is getting the message about drinking and driving.
One discouraging thing about the statistics is that the numbers seemed to have leveled off between 1994 and 1997. In some of the areas, they have actually climbed in that period. It suggests that the current generation of teenagers did not get the message as strongly as the last generation. Therefore, we must continue to pay attention to this area. We cannot become complacent.
Education in this area begins at home. It begins when the child is old enough to learn about driving. That is usually long before they ever reach the age when they begin to drive. It also requires parents to set the example for responsible behavior.
The other discouraging fact is that the numbers still remain much higher than we would like to see them. That is especially true with those related to riding in cars. It is disturbing that almost one out of five seniors drives while drinking and that one out of four seniors rides with someone who has been drinking.
The study looked at things that might be associated with this type of behavior. They found that there are factors associated with this type of behavior. Some of those are more easily controlled than others. Some are not surprises. Use of illegal drugs and school truancy were associated with both drinking and driving and riding with a driver who had been drinking. These were the two strongest predictors.
Males were more likely to drink and drive than females. However, there was no gender difference for riding with a driver who had been drinking.
Other factors are a little more surprising. One that is very important for Sussex County is that rural residence increased the likelihood of both drinking and driving and riding with a driver who had been drinking. That puts our adolescents at a higher risk than many other parts of the country.
Another surprise was that miles driven per week was as strong a predictor of drinking and driving as was truancy and drug use. It may be that the individual who has driven more miles has a false sense of security about his/her ability to drive while drunk.
Individuals who were less religious and those with the most evenings out per week were more likely to drink and drive as well as ride with someone who had been drinking.
Miles driven and evenings out per week can be addressed by enforcing a reasonable curfew when the car is used. For drivers between the ages of 15 and 18, this usually means somewhere between 10 p.m. and midnight.
There are only a few exceptions (proms, etc.) for adolescents under 18 to be out driving a car on a regular basis after midnight.
The last factor was that individuals from Hispanic background were more likely to ride with someone who had been drinking. This was not a significant factor for drinking and driving. It was only true for being a passenger.
Of interest is the fact that parental level of education had nothing to do with behavior in these two areas. Well-educated parents fared no better than anyone else in the type of behavior that their children showed.
We have certainly come a long way since 1984 in dealing with a serious problem. At that time one out of every 2000 adolescents died in an auto accident. For most of our high schools in this area, that amounts to about one death every four years.
The result would be that just about every high school student would have to deal with this kind of loss about once in his/her four years in high schools. Even once is one time too many for our teenagers.
The statistics show that we have made great strides. They also show that there are some risk factors that we can address. As parents we need to set the example and keep our children from becoming a fatal statistic.

NHS auxiliary meets Sept. 8
The regular meeting of the Nanticoke Health Services Auxiliary will be Wednesday, Sept. 8. This will be a luncheon at RJ Riverside in Laurel. Cost is $6.95 and reservations are a must. Lunch will be at 11 a.m., followed by the auxiliary meeting at noon. Guest speaker will be Jean Baldwin, Y2K coordinator at the hospital. Baldwin will talk about Nanticoke's efforts to prepare for Y2K and what you can do to prepare yourself. Reservations are a must.

Coping with loss program
Delaware Technical & Community College, Owens Campus, is offering "Beginning Experience: Coping," a non-denominational, male-female support group created to provide a confidential, caring atmosphere for those who are suffering from relationship losses such as divorce, separation, or widowhood.
An emphasis on life visions, rediscovering self, and building self-esteem can help you work through and deal with different states of grief.
This six-session program meets Mondays, Sept. 20-Oct. 25 or Nov. 15-Dec. 13, 7-9 p.m. For additional information on location and fees call facilitator Margaret Nixon at (302) 629-4735.