Current Methods Fail to Reduce High School Binge Drinking, Study Finds

Despite nationwide efforts at education and prevention, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor researchers have found increased incidences of binge drinking among high school students. Their study concluded that as many as one in five seniors engaged in binge drinking – defined as consuming five or more alcoholic drinks in a row – in the past two weeks, while one in ten reported drinking at least twice that much.

The paper was published in this month’s edition of JAMA Pediatrics.

The researchers interviewed more than 16,000 high school seniors from around the country, asking them about their experiences with consuming alcoholic beverages, defined as either 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine, a shot of hard liquor or one mixed drink.

Megan E. Patrick, Ph.D., of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and colleagues examined the prevalence and predictors of binge drinking (five or more drinks) and extreme binge drinking (10 or more and 15 or more drinks in a row) in nationally representative sample of 16,332 high school seniors (52.3 percent female, 64.5 percent white, 11 percent black, 13.1 percent Hispanic and 11.5 percent of other race/ethnicity). A drink was defined as 12 ounces of beer, four ounces of wine, a 12-ounce wine cooler, a mixed drink or a shot glass of liquor.
According to the results, 20.2 percent of seniors reported binge drinking (five or more drinks in a row) in the past two weeks, while 10.5 percent reported consuming 10 or more drinks and 5.6 percent reported consuming 15 or more drinks.

Young men were more likely than young women to engage in all levels of binge drinking, as were white compared with black students. Students whose parents were college educated had greater odds of binge drinking but lower odds of extreme binge drinking (15 or more drinks), the results indicate.

Although compared to the students in the ’70s and ’80s, today’s teens drink less both in volume and in frequency, the number of extreme binge drinkers has defied all efforts aimed at its reduction since at least 2005. The authors recommend further studies at not only of societal factors that contribute to binge drinkings, such as family, school and community, but also a closer examination of any kind of mental health factors that could be leading more students to binge drink.

In an editorial, Ralph W. Hingson, Sc.D., M.P.H., and Aaron White, Ph.D., of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Bethesda, Md., write: “Research is needed to identify the predictors of extreme consumption of 15 or more drinks on an occasion and the consequences of this behavior, as well as ways to prevent such high-consumption occasions. Patrick et al identified several predictors.”

“Numerous community interventions that are individual and parent oriented, school and web based and policy and multicomponent focused have been identified that can reduce binge drinking at conventionally defined binge drinking levels of five drinks or more per occasion,” they continue.”