Birthday drinking is a term sometimes used to describe the spike in alcohol consumption that can occur when underage or legal-age drinkers near or reach their next birthday. Two studies published in recent years explore the negative health consequences of birthday drinking. One study, published in 2008 in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, looked at the levels of intake associated with this type of alcohol consumption in American college students who reach their 21st birthdays.
A new study from a multinational research team, published in July 2014 in the journal Addiction, analyzed the impact of birthday drinking on the rate of alcohol-related emergency room visits and hospital admissions for young people above and below the legal drinking age.
Young People And Alcohol
In the U.S., alcohol consumption is fairly common among younger teenagers and people between the ages of 18 and 20. However, the rate of consumption rises steeply in young people who reach the legal drinking age of 21. Although only about 46 percent of 18- to 20-year-olds drink in the average month, fully 69 percent of young adults between the ages of 21 and 25 drink in a given month. No other age group in the country matches this rate of monthly intake.
The transition into legal drinking age also heralds a spike in two well-known forms of dangerous alcohol consumption: binge drinking and heavy drinking. Binge drinkers periodically consume enough alcohol to get legally drunk in two hours or less, while heavy drinkers make at least an occasional habit of consuming alcohol at levels high enough to increase their risks for developing alcohol use disorder (which encompasses both diagnosable alcohol abuse and diagnosable alcoholism).
Birthday Drinking In College Students
In the study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, researchers from the University of Missouri and Allegheny College used information gathered from 2,518 college students to gauge the risks associated with birthday drinking at the age of 21. These researchers found that fully 83 percent of the study participants celebrated their 21st birthdays by consuming alcohol. They also concluded that, during these alcohol-based celebrations, many students consumed excessive amounts of alcohol. Roughly 50 percent of the birthday drinkers consumed more alcohol than they ever had before, while 12 percent said that they actually consumed one drink for each birthday that had passed (bringing their one-night total to a highly dangerous 21 drinks). The researchers found that the college students most likely to consume any alcohol at all or drink excessively on their 21st birthdays have preexisting alcohol problems.
ER Visits And Hospitalization
In the study published in Addiction, researchers from Canada, the U.S. and Taiwan used an assessment of young people between the ages of 12 and 30 living in the province of Ontario, Canada, to explore the connection between birthday drinking, emergency room visits and subsequent alcohol-related hospital admissions. This data for this assessment, which included figures for the entire province, covered a five-year timespan that began in 2002.
The researchers concluded that during the week leading to up to their 19th birthdays (the legal drinking age in Ontario at the time), residents of the province experienced a dramatic rise in alcohol-related ER visits and hospitalizations. Among young women, this rise equaled 164 percent of the normal rate; among young men, the rise equaled 114 percent of the normal rate.
The researchers note that birthday drinking-related increases in ER visits and hospitalization also occur in other years during adolescence and young adulthood. For men and women, the next highest increase appears between the ages of 20 and 22. Additional notable rises appear in men and women between the ages of 23 and 26, as well as in men and women who reach the age of 30. In teenage boys, at least minor birthday drinking-related increases in ER treatment and hospitalization start to appear by age 16. In teenage girls, birthday drinking-related issues start to appear two years earlier, at age 14.
Contributing Factors That Make Heavy Birthday Drinking At 21 More Likely
In a study published in 2011 in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, researchers from the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Missouri identified some additional factors that make heavy birthday drinking at age 21 more likely.
These factors include:
- being male
- getting drunk for the first time at a relatively young age
- consuming heavy amounts of alcohol at some point in the three-month time period before turning 21
Talk To Your Teens About Binge Drinking
Make sure you talk to your teens and young adults about the dangers of binge drinking and the reasons for moderation. If you need help talking to your teen about drugs and alcohol, call us now, we are here for you.