Above the influence


By Jasmine Maharisi – News Editor

 Friends are the most influential factor determining whether teens use or abuse alcohol, according to a recent presentation by University of Nebraska Medical Center professor Melissa Tibbits.

Tibbits recently presented a colloquium titled “Preventing Alcohol Use and Abuse in Adolescents” at UNO’s College of Public Affairs and Community Service building. The colloquium was part of an ongoing series of lectures coordinated by UNMC’s School of Public Health.

The colloquium offered attendees up-to-date information about the risk factors and preventions that influence adolescent alcohol use and abuse. Tibbits presented research data from the Center for Disease Control and the National Health Institute, which funds the series with a small grant.

Tibbits said she believes it’s important to educate family, friends and youth counselors about adolescent alcohol use and abuse since these groups make up the teens’ support systems.

“Those who work with youth have a direct hand in their treatment and preventative care,” Tibbits said. “But their peers – more specifically, their circle of friends – have a lot of influence.”

Tibbits said some teens are more at risk than others because of external factors such as poverty, one-parent households or exposure to violence. These external factors are coupled with internal factors such as low self-esteem and a family history of substance abuse to create a recipe for potential alcohol abuse.

Previously, behavioral scientists believed teens without these factors were less likely to abuse alcohol, even if they associated with those who did. The new data, however, suggests otherwise.

“We were surprised by the evidence,” Tibbits said. “It shows us just how important friends really are to teenagers.”

Adolescents who abuse alcohol look for ways to obtain booze. Their methods include paying for fake identification that states they’re old enough to buy alcohol asking or bribing someone else to purchase alcohol for them.

Often, adolescents will seek out parties on college campuses in order to find alcohol or encounter someone old enough to buy alcohol, said Student Health Services Director Marcia Adler.

“They [teens] will come to UNO because they know there’s people here old enough to buy,” she said.

Seventy-four percent of all UNO campus violations in 2009 were alcohol-related, according to the UNO Campus Security and Fire Safety Report.

The Center for Disease Control estimates that 70 percent of high school students have tried alcohol before graduation. Most begin drinking at age 13, and alcohol is the No. 1 substance abused among adolescents.

Teen alcohol use doesn’t just affect the drinker but also contributes to drunk driving, vandalism and other criminal activity, according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

Drunk driving especially poses a risk to both teens and members of their communities. In 2005, almost 30 percent of all teens who died in a motor vehicle crash had been drinking. Motor vehicle accidents are the number one cause of death for youth ages 15-20.