(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Rates of binge drinking among eighth-graders dropped 37 percent in communities in seven states that used a prevention system to reduce drug use and delinquent behavior, compared to teenagers from similar communities that did not use the system.
The findings come from the ongoing Community Youth Development Study that compares teenagers living in 12 pairs of small- to moderate-size towns in Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Oregon, Utah and Washington. Researchers are tracking the behavior of more than 4,400 students for five years. The study is the first trial of Communities That Care, a system developed by J. David Hawkins and Richard Catalano of the University of Washington's Social Development Research Group to lower delinquency rates and promote healthy behaviors among teens.
"This study shows we can prevent adolescent risk behaviors community wide by using this system," J. David Hawkins, lead author and founding director of the research group, was quoted as saying. "The most dramatic finding concerned binge drinking. We asked youngsters if they had consumed five or more drinks of alcohol in one sitting in the past two weeks. We know kids who drink that way are at risk for developing alcohol abuse and dependence later. This binge drinking is occurring when children are 13 and 14 years of age, so we are actually preventing the likelihood of later alcohol problems. This is very important from a public health standpoint."
The study found that 5.7 percent of the eighth-grade students in the intervention towns engaged in binge drinking, compared to 9 percent in the communities not using the system.
The researchers also asked the participants about their use of seven types of drugs -- cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, inhalants, marijuana, alcohol, prescription drugs and other illicit drugs -- during the preceding month. Teenagers in the intervention towns reported lower levels of use of all seven substances. Notably, there was a 48 percent reduction in the use of smokeless tobacco and a 23 percent reduction in the number of teens drinking alcohol.
Teenagers from the intervention towns committed 31 percent fewer delinquent acts, such as stealing something worth more than $5, purposely damaging or destroying property that didn't belong to them or attacking someone with the intent to cause harm.
The study found that young people in the communities using the Communities That Care system were significantly less likely to begin smoking tobacco, drinking alcohol or committing delinquent acts between the fifth and eighth grades.
The 12 pairs of cities were matched by population, racial and ethnic diversity, crime rates and other factors. One city in each pair was chosen to test the Communities That Care system and received training during the first year on how to implement the system and build a supportive community coalition. The "pair" cities were given no assistance.
"What makes this system different from other prevention efforts is that it provides community coalitions with scientifically based tools with which to make decisions based on what is important to each town," said Hawkins. "The key is empowering each community to make scientifically grounded decisions about what program they need. That builds ownership."
SOURCE: Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, September 7, 2009
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