Adults drink alcoholic beverages more frequently than young people, but when kids do drink they tend to drink a lot. Binge drinking in teens is becoming epidemic, as more young people use alcohol than illegal drugs or tobacco, and what and where they drink may be surprising to adults.
Half of teens have had at least one drink by age 15. Seventy percent have had at least one drink by age 18. When young people drink they typically drink more than adults, on average about five drinks on a single occasion, an amount that can be considered binge drinking. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, teens drink in social settings, where two or more other people are present, and they most frequently drink at the home of a friend. The second most common location for teen alcohol use is their own home.
The quantity of drinks consumed varies with the setting. Teens who drink in their own or someone else’s home average 4 to 4.9 drinks on that occasion. While only 2.3 percent drink at school, 5.1 drinks on average are consumed in tat location. Concerts and sporting events appear to be the worst for underage binge drinking, with an average of 6 drinks consumed.
One-third of underage drinkers pay for their own alcohol, either purchasing it themselves, or getting someone else to buy it for them. Two-thirds do not pay for their alcohol, either having it given to them by someone unrelated and over 21 years of age, being given the beverages for free by a family member or simply taking the alcohol from their own home.
A recent study by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Boston University researchers found that 67 percent of all drinks consumed by underage drinkers aged 13 to 20 were as part of excessive drinking episodes. These binge drinking teens are particular about what they drink, exhibiting strong preferences where brand-name loyalty is prevalent. Number one on the list for underage binge drinkers is Anheuser-Busch’s Bud Light, accounting for nearly 14 percent of excessive drinking by teens. Next is Jack Daniel’s Bourbons at 7 percent, followed by Smirnoff malt beverages (6.8 percent), Budweiser (6.5 percent) and Coors Light (6.1 percent).
The top 25 brands underage drinkers reported having drunk is an eclectic mix of beers, whiskeys, vodkas, malt beverages, rums and even Cognac. Researchers theorize that marketing and availability may affect the choices, and question whether there are messages in the marketing efforts that not only encourage the use of the products, but also overuse. Whatever the reason, these 25 favorite brands accounted for more than 46 percent of all binge drinking episodes by underage youth out of the nearly 900 alcoholic brands included in the study.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calls underage drinking s a major public health problem, leading to school, social, physical and legal problems, as well as unprotected sexual activity, sexual assault, car crashes and other injuries and disruption of normal growth and sexual development. The risk of experiencing these problems is greater for those youth who binge drink. One of the prevention tactics the CDC also suggests is reducing the exposure of youth to alcohol advertising.
What and where teens are binge drinking is only one question for researchers. More study is needed to examine what drives underage and excessive alcohol consumption, particularly the combination of the two, in order to form policies and restrictions on marketing practices that may encourage binge drinking.
By Beth A. Balen
The Washington Post
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services