With Lollapalooza comes dramatic spike in underage drinking

Chicago is gearing up for the mega crowds that will descend on Grant Park this weekend for Lollapalooza, and hospitals are bracing for the fallout from underage drinking.

 “It's not stealing a beer from a six pack, it's drunk. Drunk as a skunk,” said Dr. Robert Tanz, a pediatrician at Lurie Children’s Hospital.

A survey done by Lurie Children’s Hospital found that the Lollapalooza weekend brings a dramatic spike in the number of young people, ages 13-20, who will be brought in by friends or ambulances because of dangerously high levels of alcohol in their system.

“Some were approaching the level that can be potentially fatal,” Dr. Tanz said.

All had alcohol levels above .08, which is the legal limit to be considered driving drunk.

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Last year during the Lollapalooza weekend, hospitals reported 102 alcohol related visits by underage drinkers.

By comparison, last year's Spring Awakening Music festival at Soldier Field was the next closest problem weekend with only 45 reported cases, according to information compiled from Chicago hospitals.

And those who are brought in are often too incoherent to even tell medical personnel what they had taken, either drugs, alcohol or some combination.

“And a lot of these are young girls too, and so you don't really know what's happening to them out in the field if they're getting abused or things like that. And that's the other part that we've got to take very seriously, the traumas that can occur when you are that intoxicated,” said Tara Seider, an advanced practice nurse at Lurie Children’s Hospital who has worked Lollapalooza weekends the past two years.

Lollapalooza security does check bags for booze and drugs, and the city says police will be on the lookout for underage drinking. 

But doctors have heard unconfirmed reports of people trying to avoid those measures by burying their stash in Grant Park before the festival, and then digging it up once inside.

They say it is important for parents to be proactive and talk to their kids about the dangers of alcohol before they head out to Lollapalooza.

“We don't expect you to drink, you're not allowed to drink, it's not legal to drink, those kinds of messages from parents are very important for kids,” Dr. Tanz said.