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Binge Drinking at Lollapalooza has Stabilized but Still Considered Major Concern

July 31, 2018

After peaking in 2014, in 2017 the number of teenagers ending up in Chicago Emergency Rooms (ERs) because they were intoxicated the weekend of the Lollapalooza music festival has stabilized even though the music festival increased from 3 days to 4 days in 2016.

A study led by pediatric specialists at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago shows that the number of ER visits for underage drinkers, ages 13 to 20, peaked in 2014 when 212 were seen citywide. Visits deceased to 149 in 2015, 148 in 2016, and 147 in 2017, a 31% decrease from 2014. The average number of visits for alcohol intoxication among underage teens and young adults each day of Lollapalooza was 71 in 2014, 50 in 2015, and 37 in both 2016 and 2017 (a 48% decrease since 2014 in the daily average during Lollapalooza). Hospital visits were most common on the first day of Lollapalooza (Thursday) in both 2016 and 2017. Data Source:  Illinois Hospital Association database – called COMPdata – includes all hospital discharges with diagnosis codes from all the Chicago Hospitals. 

“We believe our efforts to create awareness of this issue coupled with the City’s stricter policies and procedures around drinking at Lollapalooza have had a significant impact on underage drinking,” said Robert Tanz, MD,  general pediatrician at Lurie Children’s and Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “While we are pleased that there has been a decrease in ER visits since 2014, teenage drinking during Lollapalooza is still much higher than an average weekend. We may be doing better, but there is still a big problem with alcohol abuse during Lolla.”

In the wake of last year's deadly mass shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas, there will be even tighter security measures -- including more bag restrictions  (Backpacks prohibited) and airport-style screening at entrances. The City’s ordinance prohibiting drinking by minors is strictly enforced during the event. If any attendee is caught at the entry gates or by roving security personnel throughout the event, their pass will be confiscated for the day, and could also be confiscated for the duration of the festival.

“Underage drinking is a significant issue at city festivals and other holidays, and can lead to serious health and safety risks in children” said Nina Alfieri, MD, the lead researcher on the study and General Academic Pediatrics Fellow at Lurie Children’s. “We recommend that parents talk about the risks of underage drinking with their kids, especially before concerts and events where alcohol will be present. They should have their teenager check in with them throughout the day and make sure their children have safe plans for traveling home.”   

Research at Lurie Children’s is conducted through the Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute. Lurie Children’s is ranked as one of the nation’s top children’s hospitals in U.S. News & World Report. It is the pediatric training ground for Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Last year, the hospital served more than 208,000 children from 50 states and 52 countries.