Excessive alcohol consumption has long been a problem in society. Because alcohol is so widely used for recreational purposes, most people tend to forget it is even considered a drug. These days, it is no longer just adults who are tossing back shots faster than they can pour them. New information suggests binge drinking is more common in teens than ever before.
Researchers at the University of Vermont (UVM) and University College Dublin conducted a study in 2012 on 2,400 14-year-old teenagers which utilized neuroimaging to record data on brain activity and structure. Robert Whelan, Ph.D, lecturer at University College Dublin, said, “This multidimensional risk profile of genes, brain structure, and environmental influences can help in the prediction of binge drinking at age 16.” The same team went on to collect additional data via a study in 2014 using the same group of adolescents. By cross-referencing their original work, the group attempted to predict which teenagers would become alcohol dependent.
The results were varied. The researchers found a number of different factors could come into play when trying to predict which individuals would become binge-drinkers at 16, including being introduced to their first drink at an early age. Family life was also critical. Teens with more unstable home environments were found to be more likely to turn to drinking. Additionally, brain size was directly correlated to a predilection towards alcohol consumption. “There’s refining and sculpting of the brain, and most of the gray matter – the neurons and the connections between them, are getting smaller and the white matter is getting larger,” said Hugh Garavan, Ph.D, an associate professor of psychology at the UVM who also contributed to the research.
There are several different reasons why an increasing number of teens are resorting to alcohol abuse. Transitioning into adulthood and going through puberty infuses many adolescents with an insatiable desire for independence. This leads to the inevitable rebellious period along with more and more risks taken. Some teens simply are not aware of the host of health problems associated with rapidly consuming large amounts of alcohol. Binge drinking, which has become common in teens, can lead to alcohol poisoning and instigate cases of rape, among other things.
A study conducted by the University of Michigan found 20 percent of high school seniors had partaken in binge drinking in just a two-week period. Megan Patrick, who is responsible for collecting the new data, reported that teens are on average drinking nearly triple the normal threshold for alcohol abuse in adults. “Consuming 10 or 15 drinks at one time is a lot of alcohol, especially for a teenager,” Patrick said. The survey concluded boys were far more likely than girls to confirm drinking heavily. In addition, Caucasian students outpaced both African-American and Hispanic teens. These extrapolations could help explain why hospitalizations due to alcohol poisoning are generally on the rise.
With binge drinking in teens becoming increasingly common, new programs aiming to reduce the number of teens who habitually consume alcohol are being implemented. These trial interventions are designed to use various strategies to restrict the availability of alcohol for the underage. Substantial penalties are being applied to individuals who use fake IDs or violate zero-tolerance laws. By enforcing these policies, alcohol abuse in teens may become a more manageable situation.
By Samuel Williams