A stunning number of high school seniors, typically aged 17 to 19, engage in binge drinking, according to a recent study conducted by the University of Michigan. The study defined “binge drinking” as consuming at least five alcoholic beverages in a single session of drinking. Perhaps more alarming still, the study found that about 1 in 20 high school seniors drink more than 15 alcoholic beverages in a single occasion. The study was based on data reported by the teens themselves.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, binge drinking comprises around 90 percent of the alcohol use for people under the age of 21 in the U.S. People who binge drink also put themselves at risk for things like alcoholism, liver damage, acute alcohol poisoning, impaired driving and impaired judgment.
High Binge Drinking Rates, Scary Results
Over 16,000 seniors were included in the study which lasted from 2005 until 2011. According to the study:
- 20% of seniors had engaged in binge drinking at least once in the prior two weeks
- 10% of seniors had consumed at least 10 drinks in one session at least once in the prior two weeks
- 5% of seniors consumed at least 15 drinks in a single occasion, defined as “extreme binge drinking,” at least once in the prior two weeks
One of the lead researchers behind the study, Megan Patrick of the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, said the findings indicate a “dangerous level of alcohol use.” She added that even older teens still have growing bodies and developing brains, and that binge drinking could impede both.
Experts say that drinking at least 15 drinks over the course of a single occasion raises the blood alcohol level to approximately four or five times the legal limit, to a percentage of 0.3 to 0.45, depending largely on the body weight of the imbiber. Death due to choking becomes increasingly likely once the drinker’s blood alcohol level hits 0.35%, at which point breathing and gagging may become difficult due to the effect of alcohol on the brain stem.
Binge Drinking Declining, Extreme Binge Drinking Rising
In the study, high school males were observed as having higher binge drinking rates than high school females. Binge drinking prevalence was found to be lower among black and Latino students than white students.
Although students with college-educated parents were more likely to binge drink than students whose parents did not attend college, the latter students were more likely to drink at least 15 drinks in a single sitting. Extreme binge drinking was also found to be more common in rural areas than urban ones.
Since reaching its peak in the late 70s through early 80s, binge drinking among teenagers has decreased steadily, and this was true of the six-year study period as well. Unfortunately, rates of extreme binge drinking have remained about the same or even risen for the last eight years. This may explain why overdoses and hospitalizations related to teenage alcohol use have risen over the same period, according to the researchers.
The Bottom Line
Approximately 20% of high school seniors engage in binge drinking, according to a new study, while at least 5% of high school seniors engage in extreme binge drinking, defined as consuming more than 15 alcoholic drinks in one evening.
The full text of the study is available online in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics.