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Study Begins to Track Teen Drinking with Palm Centro Smartphones

Tue Apr 21, 2009 - 10:18 PM EDT - By Neal Martin

Just read an article over at New University.com about a study to track teen drinking, using cellphones as tools.

According to the article, researchers at the University of California have instituted a study in which select teens are given Palm Centros and their texts are to be used to collect data on substance use among preteens. Candice Odgers, UCI assistant professor of psychology and social behavior, is set to begin the study this summer. Focused on children between the ages of 10 and 13, the study will examine preteens exposed to drugs and alcohol in situations where peer pressure may influence them to drink.

It seems that of 1400 children to be interviewed, approximately 200 will be given Palm Centros to collect data and keep in touch with experimental groups through text messaging to capture their lives in "real time." This age group has been selected because substance abuse is very common in this age range and because previous studies indicate that "Exposure to substances prior to age 15 may lead to especially poor outcomes in teens, including substance dependency, school failure, contracting STDs and criminal involvement," Odgers said.

UCI students will be involved as case managers in an effort to build relationships with the youths and help them to realize that any data they relay is completely confidential and can't/won't be traced back to any particular individual. The purpose of the study, according to Odgers is to gather information about their social support networks, emotions and daily experiences. She also stated that "We also want to identify factors that may be triggering risky behaviors or protecting young teens in the face of difficult environments and situations. To accomplish this goal, we will be." Although the researchers are interested in understanding young teen experiences with substance use, the researchers will also be collecting data on other types of health behaviors, including diet, exercise and sleep according to the article.

This reminds me of an episode on NBC's "ER". In one of the most recent "ER" episodes, a young girl was at a sleep over and was playing a drinking game with the other girls. The girls were drinking Vodka mixed with something else. The one girl began to feel sick and started vomiting, but was egged on by the others to continue drinking. She texted her best friend who hadn't been allowed to attend the sleepover, and told her that she was sick and scared. The friend was jealous because she couldn't be there and thought it was funny. Well, the sick girl was hospitalized and was comatose and died later on in the night. The friend who had been texted showed up alone in the ER and Dr. Tony Gates, played by John Stamos, saw her and talked to her. The girl told him about her friend texting her and told Dr. Gates how guilty she felt because she should have called someone when she got the text. And said that if she had only done so, her friend might still be alive. Afterwards, Dr. Gates picked up his teenage daughter from school and asked her if he could put a number in her cell phone, and told her that if she was ever with friends and was drinking or doing drugs, and if things got out of hand, to please call that emergency number and he would come right away, no questions asked. The daughter agreed.

Let's hope studies like this one actually can help this exact type of situation from happening, or at least cut down on the number of such horrible occurences! Hats off to such studies!

And hats off to "ER" for bringing up the subject of teen drinking and the possible consequences, and showing that letting someone know when things get out of hand could save someone's life.

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