October 6, 2015 / 10:10 PM / 4 years ago

Factors in middle school tied to impaired driving later on

By Andrew M. Seaman

(Reuters Health) - Risk factors for intoxicated driving in high school, or for riding with impaired drivers, may be evident in children as young as 12, a new study suggests.

Middle-schoolers with positive attitudes toward marijuana or recent alcohol use, for example, were at increased risk of driving under the influence and riding with drinking drivers as teens, the authors found.

Regular conversations with adolescents may help parents and caregivers identify the youngsters who are at risk, said senior author Elizabeth D’Amico, of the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, California.

“It’s out there and around them, and if you keep an open door they’re going to be able to tell you more and you’ll be able to help them more,” D’Amico told Reuters Health.

One in 10 high school students admits to driving under the influence of alcohol in the past 30 days, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and one in five has ridden in a car with a impaired driver.

Most research on those risky behaviors has focused on older adolescents, which limits the ability to help predict future behavior, the researchers write in Pediatrics.

For the new study, they used data from nearly 1,100 middle school students in the greater Los Angeles area who completed surveys in 2009, at an average age of 12, and again in 2011 and 2013.

The analysis only included students who reported using alcohol at some point.

Those with positive beliefs toward marijuana age at 12, and those who believed they could resist marijuana, were at an increased risk of driving while impaired or riding with a drinking driver four years later.

At age 14, alcohol use within the past month, positive attitudes toward marijuana, having friends who used alcohol or marijuana and family marijuana use were all tied to an increased risk of driving while impaired or riding with a drinking driver at age 16.

D’Amico said pediatricians can easily look for these factors in young children.

“I just think there are so many innovative ways to reach youths, and everybody has to go to the doctor eventually,” she said. “Just asking them about this can be really helpful.”

In a previous study that D’Amico led, a small group of adolescents reported less marijuana use and fewer marijuana-using friends during six months of follow-up after a 15- to 20-minute chat with a mental health case manager at a community health clinic, compared to adolescents who didn’t have that chat.

One limitation of the new study is that the researchers didn’t ask about driving while intoxicated specifically for alcohol and marijuana.

As medical and recreational marijuana use in the U.S. increases, it will be important to tease the specifics apart, the researchers say.

“My concern just from the work I’ve been doing and being in the field with youth is that many know they wouldn’t drink and drive, but they feel marijuana is safer,” D’Amico said.

SOURCE: bit.ly/1KYo1i4 Pediatrics, online October 5, 2015.

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