Problems Early in Life Predict Binge Drinking, Study Finds
Binge Drinking and Young Adults
For reasons including typical body size and gender-based differences in the ability to break down alcohol, the average man must consume more alcohol before getting legally drunk (about five standard drinks in two hours) than the average woman (about four standard drinks in two hours). Despite this fact, young men in the U.S. participate in binge drinking considerably more often than young women. In terms of age, the absolute peak rate of alcohol binging on at least a monthly basis is 45.1 percent; this rate occurs in young men and women between the ages of 21 and 25. The practice tapers off over the next few years, but the rate remains well above 30 percent in all adults between the ages of 26 and 34. Among people in the typical college age range of 18 to 25, those individuals actually enrolled in college take part in heavy episodic drinking much more often than those not enrolled in college.
Binge Drinking Consequences
Binge drinkers incur major risks to their health and well-being that include substantially heightened chances for things such as developing a potentially lethal case of alcohol poisoning, driving while intoxicated, getting into a motor vehicle accident, receiving some other sort of accidental injury, acting as the recipient or aggressor in a physical assault and acting as the recipient or aggressor in a sexual assault. Additional major risks linked to the practice include loss of the ability to manage chronic health problems, increased chances of attempting suicide, increased chances of exposure to problems (e.g., sexually transmitted infections or an unwanted pregnancy) stemming from involvement in unprotected sex and significant amounts of damage in organs and/or organ systems that include the cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) system, the nervous system and the liver (which tries to process all alcohol that enters the body).
Factors in Earlier Life
In the study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, the University of Washington researchers used data gathered from a two decade-long project to explore the adolescent and early childhood factors that increase a person’s odds of being involved in binge drinking at age 21 or at age 33. A total of 808 individuals from both genders and a variety of racial/ethnic backgrounds took part in this project from age 10 all the way up through their early 30s. Specific factors under consideration included the general level of function inside the family unit, whether or not one’s peers or family viewed alcohol consumption in a positive light and the more generalized social environment maintained with peers in childhood and adolescence.
The researchers concluded that factors active in adolescence and early childhood do indeed have an influence on the odds of binge drinking involvement at age 21 and age 33. However, the specific factors involved depend on the binge-drinking age under discussion. For binge drinking involvement at age 21, the key factors from earlier phases of life are apparently having a family or peers who favor alcohol use and exposure to other permissive influences from a peer group. However, for binge drinking involvement at age 33, the key factor from earlier phases of life is apparently growing up in a dysfunctional family unit. For both drinking ages, the risk factors uncovered by the researchers stem from adolescence, not from early childhood.
The influences uncovered by the researchers are relative, not absolute, and other factors undoubtedly play a role in binge drinking risks. Still, based on their findings, the study’s authors believe that effective campaigns designed to curb binge drinking should probably address both the known immediate risks for heavy episodic drinking and the underlying problems that appear earlier in life.