Although binge drinking among young people has decreased in the last several decades, it is still fairly common among high school seniors, according to new research from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
In a survey of more than 16,000 high school seniors between 2005 and 2011, researcher Megan Patrick and her team found that more than 20 percent reported binge drinking (five or more drinks in a row) within the last two weeks. Additionally, 10.5 percent said they consumed 10 or more drinks and 5.6 percent reported extreme binge drinking of 15 or more drinks in a row. Their findings were published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
A 2011 survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that among all high school students, more than one-third drank some amount of alcohol in the month leading up to the survey, 22 percent binge drank, and 8 percent drove after drinking alcohol.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says underage drinking is responsible for 5,000 deaths and more than 190,000 emergency room visits each year.
Binge drinking and the frequency of drinking among adolescents reached record highs in the late 1970s and early 1980s and have decreased since that time. But according to the study, extreme binge drinking has not shown a decline since 2005, when Patrick and her colleagues began their survey.
"The documented rates of extreme binge drinking, and the fact that they have not changed across recent historical time, support the need for additional research to develop effective prevention and intervention strategies to reduce high-risk alcohol behaviors of youth," the study says.
Ralph Hingson and Aaron White of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism wrote in an editorial that the results of the study were "troubling" and that future research should focus on predictors of extreme binge drinking, some of which were identified in Patrick's study. Patrick and her colleagues found that men were more likely than women to participate in all levels of binge drinking, as were white students compared with black students. The study also found that students with college-educated parents were more likely to binge drink, but less likely to engage in extreme binge drinking.
The high blood alcohol levels that result from binge drinking have several negative consequences, Hingson and White write, and can increase short- and long-term risks of blackouts, homicides, car crashes, sexual assaults and altered brain development.
Several different interventions geared towards both students and parents "have been identified that can reduce binge drinking at conventionally defined binge drinking levels," Hingson and White write.
"Measures of extreme consumption ... need to be routinely included in prevention studies so researchers can identify what types of interventions also reduce extreme drinking occasions or whether new approaches warrant investigation," they write.