Testing to Predict Binge Drinking in Teens

According to a recently published study, researchers have developed a test that may predict whether teenagers are likely to engage in binge drinking. If we can accurately predict who may become a binge drinker, we may be able to curb preventable deaths due to alcohol related accidents or lifetime misery from substance abuse.  

About 90% of the alcohol consumed by youth under the age of 21 in the United States is in the form of binge drinks.

Research led by Dr. Robert Whelan of University College Dublin in Ireland, was the first to conduct a comprehensive analysis of multiple factors that may influence teenage binge drinking, defined as consuming so much alcohol within 2 hours that blood alcohol concentration levels reach 0.08 g/dL.

The researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look at participants’ brain structure and physiology at the age of 14, and gathered a wide range of data including information on their personality, life history and events, cognitive abilities, genetics and demographics.

Past research has shown that preventing alcohol use earlier is the best way to reduce risk of becoming dependent on alcohol, as much as 10% decrease for every year of delayed experimentation.

The researchers found that life events, such as romantic or sexual relationships, and negative life experiences at the age of 14 represented current binge drinking and were predictors of future binge drinking. Furthermore, the team was surprised to find that even 1-2 incidences of alcohol consumption at the age of 14 were predictors of binge drinking 2 years later. In addition, the researchers identified certain personality traits – such as feeling rewarded by new experiences – that were predictors of future binge drinking.

Drinking alcohol under the age of 21 has been illegal in all fifty states since 1988, yet 11% of all alcohol consumption is in the 12-20 year age group. This results in 4300 annual alcohol related deaths every year among underage youth, a sad and terrible statistic that indicates that society needs better alcohol abuse prevention and early intervention programs. I hope that this new model will be useful in determining which children are at risk of future alcohol misuse and getting them help before they destroy their lives.



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