By Dr. Maria Simbra

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — An annual survey called the Partnership Attitude Tracking Study is showing that teens think drinking is normal for their age. Cues from their environment may be playing a role.

Over recent years the trend in teen drinking was down, but now it’s up.

“Teens generally follow what they see going on in their neighborhoods and their families. They’re certainly affected by the media and what they see in TV shows and in the movies,” Dr. Jonathan Pletcher, an adolescent medicine specialist at Children’s Hospital, said.

In school surveys of more than 2,500 teens in grades 9 through 12, almost half saw no great risk in having five drinks or more in a sitting nearly every day. Three out of four teens have friends who drink alcohol at least once a week. Among teens who drink, two-thirds of them had their first full alcoholic drink by age 15. Also, compared to 2008, in 2010, marijuana and ecstasy use are up.

“I would say the most disturbing is the normalcy, the idea that they see this as a normal thing, drinking at a young age and the number of drinks and kids will always base their idea of normal on what they see around them,” Dr. Pletcher continued.

The teens say they drink to forget their troubles or to deal with problems at home or school.

More than 800 parents were surveyed in person as well and feel unprepared to handle underage drinking. Dr. Pletcher says they can get help from books, websites and counseling.

“It all begins with role modeling. Kids will definitely follow what their parents are doing. So that may be the best thing parents can do is be a good role model in regards to alcohol use,” Dr. Pletcher added.

Being involved in their children’s lives will help parents spot signs of trouble with substance abuse, like a change in mood, friends, fashion, grades, secrecy and using mouthwash and room deodorizers to mask the smell of drugs and alcohol.

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