September 13, 2007 / 6:00 PM / 12 years ago

Binge drinking particularly risky for teens

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A new study suggests that teenagers who binge drink are at risk of a range of adulthood problems, including alcohol and drug abuse, homelessness and jail time.

Researchers found that British teens who regularly binged — downing four or more drinks in a row — faced greater long-term risks than their peers who drank frequently but did not binge.

This suggests that binge drinking is a particularly strong signal of problems to come, according to the study authors.

Dr. Russell M. Viner and Brent Taylor of University College London report the findings in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Past research has suggested that binge drinking causes long-term damage to the still-developing teenage brain. Studies have also found that teens that binge have higher rates of health problems, like high blood pressure and obesity, as young adults.

For their study, Viner and Taylor used data from an ongoing study following more than 11,000 Britons born in 1970. In 1986, when participants were 16, they reported on their drinking habits; at age 30, they were questioned again about their alcohol and drug use, as well as other health and social issues.

As teenagers, 18 percent of participants admitted to binge drinking at least twice in the past two weeks. Viner and Taylor found that these teens were 60 percent more likely than their peers to become alcohol-dependent by age 30. They were also more likely to use drugs or drink excessively.

Similarly, teenagers who did not binge but drank frequently — twice a week or more — were at increased risk of alcohol problems at age 30.

However, binge drinkers’ problems went beyond alcohol, the study found. They were also at increased risk of not finishing high school, developing mental health disorders, being convicted of a crime and becoming homeless.

The results, according to Viner and Taylor, suggest that binge drinking may predict not only lasting problems with alcohol, but also “social, educational and socioeconomic adversity.”

Programs aimed at curbing teen drinking, they conclude, should put a special focus on the dangers of binge drinking.

SOURCE: Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 2007.

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