Teens Doubling and Tripling Their Alcohol Intake

Binge drinking among high school seniors exceeds even traditional drink amounts

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Concerns about teenage alcohol use have existed for a long time — and with good reason. But it may surprise some people to learn just how much some high school students drink.

A recent study found that one in five high school seniors had gone binge drinking, consuming at least five drinks in one sitting, within the previous two weeks.

In addition, however, significant numbers of high school students are also drinking two and three times as much in one sitting.

Seniors from rural areas were more likely than those living in cities to drink excessive amounts of alcohol, as much as 15 drinks at a time.

"Keep an eye on your teen's drinking."

This study, led by Megan E. Patrick, PhD, of the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, looked at binge drinking in high school seniors.

The researchers used data from a study called Monitoring the Future that collects information from US high school students each year.

The data used in this study was collected between 2005 and 2011 and included responses from 16,332 high school seniors.

The researchers assessed how many twelfth graders had drunk five or more drinks, 10 or more drinks or 15 or more drinks at one time within the previous two weeks.

Typically, "binge drinking" is defined in research terms as having five or more drinks in one sitting.

However, the researchers in this study wanted to learn whether high school seniors drank much more than this during binge drinking episodes.

They found that there were groups of high school seniors drinking very large amounts of alcohol at one time.

Overall, 20 percent of the high school seniors in the study reported drinking at least five drinks in one sitting at some point in the previous two weeks.

In addition, 10.5 percent of seniors reported drinking 10 or more drinks in one sitting, and 5.6 percent of the seniors reported drinking at least 15 alcoholic beverages in one sitting within the previous two weeks.

In looking at each of the years from 2005 to 2011, the researchers found that binge drinking involving at least five or at least 10 drinks at a time had declined over that time period.

However, the rate of seniors who consumed at least 15 alcoholic drinks in one sitting did not change much over those six years.

The researchers found that seniors whose parents were college-educated were more likely to have at least five drinks at a time, but less likely to have 15 at once, compared to those whose parents were not college-educated.

The students most likely to consume 15 or more drinks at a time were those in rural areas.

In addition, boys were more likely than girls to drink at all three levels of binge drinking, and whites were more likely to binge drink than blacks, Hispanics or those of other races.

The researchers also identified other factors that predicted the likelihood that seniors would drink very large amounts of alcohol.

These factors included having friends who smoked or drank alcohol, spending more nights out with friends, using other substances such as cigarettes or marijuana and having a non-negative attitude toward substance use.

The researchers concluded that traditional binge drinking (five or more drinks) was common among high school seniors and that the numbers of those who drank two and three times as much were also high.

"These data suggest the importance of assessing multiple levels of binge drinking behavior and their predictors among youth to target effective screening and intervention efforts," the researchers wrote.

This study was published September 16 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. The research was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The authors reported no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
September 16, 2013
Last Updated:
September 16, 2013