Rowdy summer concerts prompt new website about underage drinking

As teenagers prepare to return to school following a busy concert season — one that saw dozens of them taken to hospitals after consuming too much alcohol — the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services has launched a website aimed at reducing underage drinking.

It’s not a new issue by any stretch of the imagination; studies show alcohol remains the most misused or abused drug by youth both state- and nationwide, DMHAS spokeswoman Diana Lejardi said by phone Tuesday.

“This is a time where a lot of parents are taking their kids to college, perhaps for the first time,” Lejardi said. “It’s really important to talk about the dangers of drinking and the potential consequences.”

Lejardi stressed that many of the youths that officials had to take to hospitals this summer weren’t tipsy — they were nearly comatose.

“Some were barely breathing, or unconscious,” she said, referring in particular to concerts at XFINITY Theatre in Hartford. “Others were in intensive care or intubated. These were severe, serious cases.”

She noted it’s not only college-aged kids who are at risk. The average U.S. girl has her first drink at 13, Lejardi said, and the average boy has it at 11.

In a survey the state Department of Health administered to Connecticut high school students in 2015, one in three students reported having had at least one drink in the past month. And one in seven, or 14 percent, said they had consumed five drinks in a row, or binge drunk, on at least one occasion in the past month.

“These students are actively drinking,” Lejardi said.

The launch of DMHAS’ new website comes shortly after Norwich announced an initiative to combat rising prescription drug misuse among city youth. In Norwich in 2015, 12.4 percent of students admitted to recent use of medications not prescribed to them. The percentages for alcohol and marijuana, respectively, were 7.1 and 7.7 percent.

Those numbers are a bit different from the larger southeastern Connecticut region, where alcohol, at 10 percent, still was students’ most used drug within the past 30 days.

Lejardi said advice outlined on the new DMHAS page is relevant for all risky behaviors.

Among those who were less likely to engage in alcohol and drug use, hazardous driving and risky sexual behaviors, she explained, there were three commonalities: They reported having regular dinners with their families, feeling love and support from their parents and having parents who asked about their whereabouts.

With that in mind, the DMHAS site offers several tips for guardians: Talk early and often about anything and everything. Ask what your child is interested in or is doing every day. Be a role model by replicating the behavior you want to see in them. Help your kid understand what a good friend acts like. Know where your kids are. And, importantly, set rules.

"Whether it's about alcohol or drugs, the biggest point is that parents need to open the line of communication between them and their children," Lejardi said. “Even though it may feel like children aren’t listening, they are. They may be rolling their eyes while they're getting it, but they’re getting the message.”

The new website also features two videos: one that focuses on the dangers of underage drinking and another that covers the potential consequences.

“We’ve been seeing an excess of not just consumption of alcohol, but excessive consumption of alcohol by youth,” state Trooper Kate Cummings says in one of the videos.

She goes on to discuss how teenagers already make mistakes while driving, and alcohol only makes that worse.

“In the state of Connecticut, the blood alcohol content limit for anyone under the age of 21 is 0.02 (percent),” Cummings says. “This is by design because we know that youth are still in their developing stages, whether it be their brain or their bodies.”

“We want them to make smart choices now so it’s not affecting their future down the road,” she says.

To visit the new website, go to www.ct.gov/dmhas/underagedrinking.

l.boyle@theday.com

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