Plenty of high school seniors are binge drinkers, consuming five or more alcoholic drinks in a row, but a new study shows that some are extreme binge drinkers, knocking back as many as 10, 15 or more drinks in one session.
The research out Monday shows one in 10 high school seniors have engaged in extreme binge drinking (10 or more drinks in a row) while 5.6% have consumed 15 or more drinks.
"This is the first study to document extreme binge drinking in a sample of adolescents," says lead author Megan Patrick, a research assistant professor at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.
About one in five seniors report binge drinking. That percentage has decreased from 22% in 2005 to 18.1% in 2011, the study shows.
The percentage of high school seniors who binge drink overall has gone down, but the percentage extreme binge drinking has stayed virtually the same in recent years, which may explain why emergency room visits for kids in this age group have not decreased, she says.
Binge drinking can lead to injuries, accidents, alcohol poisoning and drowning. It can also cause impaired driving ability and increase the risk of liver damage and alcohol dependence, Patrick says. Consuming "high levels of alcohol at this age can alter brain development."
Patrick and colleagues reviewed data from a national sample of more than 16,000 high school seniors who filled out questionnaires on their behaviors, including how much they drank for the two weeks prior to the survey.
The researchers defined binge drinking as five or more drinks for both men and women. (It's also sometimes defined as five drinks for men and four for women during a two-hour period.) A drink was 12 ounces of beer, four ounces of wine, 12-ounce wine cooler, a mixed drink or shot glass of liquor. The historical highs for binge drinking were the late '70s and early '80s, when about 40% reported binge drinking, she says.
Among the findings published in JAMA Pediatrics, a Journal of the American Medical Association Network Publication:
• Boys (24.7%) were more likely than girls (15%) to participate in all levels of binge drinking.
• Binge drinking was far more common among white students (23.8%) than black students (7.6%).
• High school seniors with college-educated parents were more likely to binge drink; but students who did not have college-educated parents were more likely to engage in extreme binge drinking, Patrick says.
• Students from rural areas were more likely to engage in extreme binge drinking than students in urban or suburban communities, she says.
• High school seniors who drank 15 or more drinks at a time in the two weeks preceding the survey were significantly more likely than those who did not binge drink to use other drugs.
Jan Withers, president of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), says parents can help their teens understand the misconception that everyone is binge drinking. This study shows most aren't binge drinking, she says.
Parents are the No. 1 influence on their teen's decisions about alcohol, Withers says. She advises that parents tell their teens they love them and want them to be healthy and safe and set clear rules and consequences for underage alcohol consumption.
Pediatrician Patricia Kokotailo, director of adolescent medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and the lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement on alcohol use by youth and adolescents, says parents should:
• Talk with their children about the family's history of alcohol or drug use. There's a genetic component to alcoholism, and kids should know if they're at greater risk of problems.
• Set a firm policy: No alcohol, drugs or tobacco until age 21. Use the new research on the teenage brain to explain that this is about keeping those maturing brains safe and enabling them to keep on maturing. "We now know that the brains of adolescents continue to mature at least into their mid-20s, especially in the frontal cortex and pre-frontal cortex areas which are involved with emotional regulation, planning, organization and inhibition of inappropriate actions," Kokotailo says. "The immaturity of the adolescent brain confers greater vulnerability to toxic and addictive actions of alcohol."
• Never host a teenage party with drugs or alcohol. "The liability is enormous if one of those young people goes out and drives and kills or injures him- or herself or others," Kokotailo says.
• Be a good role model for children: Limit your own alcohol use, and don't drink and drive a car or other vehicle yourself.
• Give their children one-on-one time with the pediatrician, family medicine doctor or other health care provider. The provider should help the young person with their decision making.