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          Front Page




Teenagers Prefer Hard Liquor

By Olivier Uyttebrouck
Copyright 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
    Hard liquor is the alcoholic drink of choice among New Mexico high school students, topping beer and other beverages, according to a study published today by the federal Centers for Disease Control.
    The finding suggests that high school students here and in other states are opting for alcoholic drinks that get them drunk faster and pose a greater risk of alcohol poisoning and other hazards.
    "Youth are moving toward consuming something with a higher alcohol content," said Jennifer Cremeens, a CDC epidemiologist and lead author of the report.
    Of the New Mexico ninth- through 12th-grade students surveyed, 42 percent said they had at least one alcoholic drink in the previous 30 days.
    Hard liquor was consumed by 36 percent— more than one-third— of those, the study reported.
    That compares with about 20 percent who said they usually consumed beer.
    Another 20 percent expressed a preference for malt beverages or "alcopop"— flavored drinks made from malted grain, including brand-name drinks such as Smirnoff Ice, Bacardi Silver and hard lemonade.
    Others listed wine, wine coolers, other drinks and "no usual type."
    The study was based on a 2005 survey of about 5,600 students in New Mexico.
    Similar surveys were performed in Arkansas, Nebraska and Wyoming. In each state, students listed a preference for liquor over other alcoholic drinks.
    Arkansas had the highest number who preferred liquor— 45 percent. Nebraska had the lowest at 34 percent.
    The percentage who said they'd had a drink in the past 30 days was about the same for all four states.
    The findings are reported in the current issue of CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
    The preference for liquor surprised researchers, who had expected beer to top the list.
    "I actually went into it thinking that beer would come out on top," Cremeens said.
    However, little research has been done to determine what kind of alcoholic beverages young people drink, Cremeens said.
    The report suggests several possible explanations for teenagers' preference for hard liquor.
    Liquor is easier to conceal than beer and can be mixed with soda and fruit juices to satisfy the tastes of young drinkers, the report notes.
    For high school students intent on getting drunk, liquor simply works faster than beer.
    "It might have to do with drinking specifically to get drunk," Jim Roeber, an alcohol epidemiologist for the New Mexico Department of Health who helped prepare the study.
    Liquor is the clear favorite among underage binge drinkers, Roeber said. Liquor also offers a greater hazard to inexperienced drinkers, he said.
    "Because it's potentially easier to drink to excess, it's potentially easier to end up in alcohol-related harm, such as a crash death," he said.
    The survey included no questions about where teenagers obtain alcohol and how that may affect their preferences.
    Linda Atkinson, executive director of the DWI Resource Center, said underage drinkers often drink what's available.
    Liquor may be easier to conceal and shoplift or to remove from a parent's liquor cabinet, Atkinson said.
    "Accessibility and availability probably play into what they're drinking and when," she said.