A teen binge drinker is much more likely to become an adult who either drinks heavily or is alcoholic, according to an article published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. The risk of have a string of criminal convictions as an adult is also much higher.

In this study, the health and prospects of over 11,000 UK children was monitored. They were all born in 1970 and were monitored at 16 and 30 years of age (The 1970 British Birth Cohort Study). The researchers collected data on binge drinking during the preceding two weeks and habitual drinking during the preceding 12 months from the 16 year olds. 25% of the 16-year-olds drank more than two or three times a week (habitual drinkers).

The researchers defined binge drinking as consuming four or more drinks in a row in two or more episodes. 18% of them were binge drinkers – more men than women were in this category.

When they were 30 years old they revealed how much they drank, based on weekly consumption. They were also asked about their consumption of illegal drugs, mental health problems, educational and employment achievement, as well as their personal history.

The researchers saw a strong link between habitual drinking at 16 years of age and problem drinking and illegal drug use as adults. A 16 year old binge drinker had a 60% higher risk to become alcohol dependent by the time he/she was 30, wrote the authors. A young binge drinker is 70% more likely to become a regular heavy drinker by the time he/she is 30, compared to a 16 year old who was not a regular drinker. A 16-year-old binge drinker’s chances of having a host of other problems at the age of 30 were also much higher:

— The likelihood of consuming illegal drugs at age 30 was 40% higher
— The likelihood of having mental problems at age 30 was 40% higher
— The likelihood of them being homeless at age 30 was 60% higher
— The likelihood of them having criminal convictions at age 30 was almost double
— The likelihood of them having had accidents at age 30 was 40% higher
— The likelihood of them having gained no educational qualifications at age 30 was 30% higher

The researchers found the figures remained largely unchanged even after making adjustments for other factors which could influence the findings.

The writers added that the difference in outcomes between a teen binge drinker and a teen habitual drinker is significant. They urge health professionals and authorities to focus more on adolescent risk behaviors rather than just alcohol use, access and availability.

“Adult outcomes of binge drinking in adolescence: findings from a UK national birth cohort”
J Epidemiol Community Health 2007; 61: 902-7

Written by: Christian Nordqvist