Teen Binge Drinking Predicts Later Behavioral Problems
> 9/14/2007 10:16:45 AM

Underage drinking obviously offers only negative returns on all fronts, but recent studies imply that teens who binge, or consume more than four drinks in succession, face an even greater risk of later health and behavioral problems than those who drink frequently while refraining from such periodic over-indulgence.

News that those who drink to excess in adolescence are 60% more likely to develop alcohol dependencies by the age of 30 is hardly surprising, but beyond exposing themselves to the serious risk of developing bad habits and permanently damaging their developing brains, teenagers who binge are also far more likely to be incarcerated, addicted to drugs or living on the street upon follow-up examinations. Independent studies note that teens prone to binge drinking are also more likely to attempt suicide, as heavy drinking sessions very often precede serious suicide attempts.

The statistical foundation for this report, drawn from a longitudinal study of 11,000 British citizens born in 1970, is striking. Follow-up surveys in 1986 sought information about the drinking habits of the then-16-year-olds, and a 2000 survey measured their adult progress: those who drank at least twice a week without bingeing were far more susceptible to alcohol problems by 30 than those who weren't drinking at 16, but the 18% of the teenagers who'd admitted to binge drinking at least twice in the two weeks preceding the initial survey were twice as likely to have a conviction on record, 40% more likely to abuse illicit drugs, 40% more likely to suffer from some form of mental illness, 60% more likely to be homeless and an astonishing four times as likely to have been "excluded" from school.

The chicken-egg question regarding whether binge drinking creates bad habits or individuals prone to binging also lean toward the latter is a mostly irrelevant toss-up, differing from case to case. The largest point to be drawn from this study is that drinking to excess in adolescence signifies a risk of developing far more serious problems ahead. And the numbers are not encouraging: A 2006 survey revealed that at least one in five students aged 11-15 had consumed alcohol within the previous week. While that number has, for the most part, held steady for the last fifteen years, even dropping slightly between 2001 and 2004, significant declines are extremely unlikely. The issue is here to stay, and studies reveal the futility of publicity campaigns and television commercials designed to discourage underage drinking, so new approaches are needed to combat the problem: a previously proposed shift in the legal drinking age from 18 to 21 could, we suppose, be a start.

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