PROVO — About $62 billion a year is spent on alcohol nationwide, and federal and Utah officials don't want any of that money spent by underage drinkers.

The Utah County Division of Substance Abuse held a town hall-style meeting Wednesday night for residents to discuss talking to teens about alcohol use.

"Underage drinking is the No. 1 problem in Utah County and the nation," said Brian Alba, prevention coordinator in the Utah County Division of Substance Abuse.

The meeting was part of a nationwide effort to curb the rise of underage drinking. Each state has a campaign that sponsors town hall meetings and outreach efforts to help parents of teenagers, whether it's discussing ways to talk to their children about drinking or ways to spot and stop alcohol use and abuse. Utah's campaign, Parents Empowered, in conjunction with county health departments throughout Utah, sponsored the town hall meetings, commercials and a Web site.

More than 70 people attended the meeting in Provo, where members of the division shared statistics and ideas about how to help teens make a decision not to drink. A survey taken throughout school districts in Utah by Student Health and Risk Protection showed several surprising statistics. Possibly the most surprising, teenagers who took the survey said the No. 1 reason they didn't drink was because their parents would disapprove.

Nicole Brereton, a prevention worker who presented the statistics, said teenage drinking can also cause brain damage. The human brain isn't through developing until the age of 21 and drinking can cause damage that impacts decisionmaking skills. Brain scans show that people who started drinking when they were teens have less brain activity than those who didn't.

Studies have also shown, Brereton said, that the majority of teens who drink say their parents didn't discuss it with them. The studies also found there are three clear steps to help prevent underage drinking: setting boundaries, monitoring children and bonding with children, she said.

Families should spent time together, parents should know their children's friends, stay in contact with their children and follow through with boundaries, Brereton said.

For parents who have a child who is drinking, Brereton said there is hope and recovery is possible.

Springville parent Mike Swendsen said he was surprised that his opinion would matter to his teenagers.

"The most important thing is to take note that if we don't talk it will be a problem," he said.

Prevention manager Pat Bird said that although there isn't a "silver bullet" for substance abuse problems, there are proactive and preventive steps that can reduce the chance that a teenager will begin and continue to drink.

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