A study in the June 2017 Pediatrics shows an overall decline in the rate of frequent binge alcohol consumption among U.S. teens during the past 25 years.
However, authors of "Frequent Binge Drinking among US Adolescents, 1991-2015" (published online May 22), also found cause for concern: slower declines in binge drinking frequency among black adolescents since 2007, a narrowing difference by gender, and a growing gap based on socioeconomic status.
Researchers funded by the National Institute for Drug Abuse and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism analyzed data provided by more than a million youth from 1991 to 2015 as part of an ongoing series of national surveys from the Monitoring the Future study.
They found overall rates of frequent binge drinking, defined as consuming 5 or more drinks in a row at least twice during the past 2 weeks, declined in recent years among all ages during adolescence. It dropped to 2.6% among 13-year-olds and 14.8% for 18-year-olds between 2007-2015, for example, compared to 5.0% and 20.0% between 1991-1998.
The overall decline, they found, was driven by both "period" effects–society-wide trends that affect youth of all ages living during a particular time–and "cohort" or generational effects, with the greatest decline among adolescents born between 1985 and 1990. But despite the overall decline, they found a slower reduction among blacks than whites since 2007, which they said signals disparities in improving national statistics. There was also a convergence in frequent binge drinking rates by gender, due to smaller decline among adolescent females compared to males, they said, and a divergence by socioeconomic status, due to smaller decline among youth from low socioeconomic status backgrounds.
Since teens who frequently binge drink have higher rates of injuries and other health problems, risky sexual behavior, development of psychiatric and alcohol use disorders and lower academic outcomes, authors of the study said that alcohol use screening by health-care practitioners remains critically important.
Editor's note: The solicited commentary, "Adolescent Frequent Heavy Drinking from 1991-2015," accompanies this article.