Psychology experts on alcohol abuse and child development are behind this month's special issue of the journal Pediatrics, which details the range of problems linked to teen drinking and explores how pediatricians can prevent teens from becoming lifelong abusers. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), half of American children begin drinking before the age of 15, and those who start before 15 are at four times the risk of having a lifetime alcoholism diagnosis.

Given these alarming numbers, NIAAA has been encouraging researchers to look at alcohol abuse through a developmental lens. The institute proposed the special issue, "Underage Drinking: Understanding and Reducing Risk in the Context of Human Development," as a way to deliver such research to pediatricians.

"Adolescent alcohol use is not a new issue," says psychologist Vivian B. Faden, PhD, deputy director of the Division of Epidemiology and Prevention Research at NIAAA and co-editor of the issue along with Mark Goldman, PhD. "What is new is approaching this problem in a developmental context."

The volume includes seven articles--six of them first-authored or co-authored by psychologists--broken down by age groups to help pediatricians understand the risk factors at play throughout late childhood and adolescence. One such factor is brain development: Risk-taking behavior spikes during the teen years, prompting many teens to experiment with alcohol at the time when their developing brains are most vulnerable to alcohol's effects.

Faden and Goldman hope the special issue prompts more pediatricians to talk with teens, tweens and their parents about alcohol.

"Brief interventions can make a difference, even if it's just bringing parents in," says Goldman, director of the Alcohol and Substance Use Research Institute at the University of Florida.

-J. Chamberlin