PhotoHigh school seniors are a hard-drinking bunch, a new study finds. Many think nothing of putting away five or more drinks in a single session. And truly excessive binge drinking -- defined as 15 or more drinks -- is becoming more common, according to a study published by JAMA Pediatrics, a JAMA Network publication.

While drinking bouts may be regarded as a rite of passage, they're also a serious public health problem, the researchers said. Binge drinking, commonly defined as four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men, can cause injury, impaired driving and alcohol poisoning, as well as long-term risks such as liver damage, alcohol dependence and alterations to the developing brains of adolescents.

According to the study, 20.2 percent of seniors reported binge drinking in the past two weeks, while 10.5 percent reported consuming 10 or more drinks and 5.6 percent reported consuming 15 or more drinks.

Megan E. Patrick, Ph.D., of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and colleagues looked at a nationally representative sample of 16,332 high school seniors (52.3 percent female, 64.5 percent white, 11 percent black, 13.1 percent Hispanic and 11.5 percent of other race/ethnicity). A drink was defined as 12 ounces of beer, four ounces of wine, a 12-ounce wine cooler, a mixed drink or a shot glass of liquor.

Young men were more likely than young women to engage in all levels of binge drinking, as were white compared with black students. Students whose parents were college educated had greater odds of binge drinking but lower odds of extreme binge drinking (15 or more drinks), the results indicate.

No decrease in extreme binge drinking

The authors note that while binge drinking, specifically, and the frequency of drinking, generally, have decreased among adolescents since record high levels in the late 1970s and early 1980s and have continued since 2005 to decrease, extreme binge drinking has not shown such declines since 2005, the study notes.

The authors suggest that further research may consider a broad range of family, school and community risk factors, as well as genetic and mental health indicators for binge drinking.

“The documented rates of extreme binge drinking, and the fact that they have not changed across recent historical time, support the need for additional research to develop effective prevention and intervention strategies to reduce high-risk alcohol behaviors of youth,” the study concludes.

The study was funded by a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. 

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