When parents are talking with teens about reasons to stay away from alcohol there are plenty of reasons to give. The illegality of teenage drinking is only the beginning. There are immediate dangers associated with drinking and later consequences as well. Parents can lay out these risks in a matter-of-fact way that allows young people to see for themselves the danger of underage drinking.
A recent study followed teens into their early 20s to track some of the expected outcomes for those who do/don’t decide to drink, especially heavily, during their high school years.
Teen Drinking Study
The study was conducted through the University of Washington and it tracked 800 Seattle young people 13 to 18 years old, following up with them when they were in their early 20s. Participants in the study were roughly 50 percent female and 50 percent male. The study utilized annual interviews between ages 13 to 16. It then followed up those assessments with interviews/questionnaires at ages 18, 21 and 24.
During later age interviews the participants were asked about drug, alcohol and tobacco use. In the final interview at age 24, participants were asked about personal health habits, their health history and were given a blood pressure check.
Researchers controlled for current drinking habits, teen drug use, gender, race and socioeconomic status.
The University of Washington researchers identified four separate categories associated with teen binge drinking. Binge drinking was defined as consuming five or more beverages in a single sitting.
4 Categories Of Binge Drinking
- Non-Binge: This was the majority of young people. Seventy percent of the study participants never took part in binge drinking between the ages of 13 and 18.
- Late Onset: Around one quarter (23 percent) began to drink after they turned 16 and typically binged twice per month by the time they were 18 years of age.
- Escalator: A much smaller group (4 percent) started to drink at age 15 and saw their drinking rise sharply and steadily to the point of binging 10 times per month by the age of 18.
- Chronic Binge: Slightly fewer (3 percent) began to drink as early as age 13 and kept on binge drinking until it happened three to five times per month by age 18.
Consequences Of Teens Drinking/Binging Early
Teens who started drinking early and who binged all through their teen years quadrupled their chances of being obese or at least overweight compared to those who rarely or never drank as teens. This is a serious health consequence since being overweight is linked to other health problems such as hypertension, diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
The early and heavy drinking teens also more than tripled their likelihood of having high blood pressure by the time they turned 24. By comparison, those who did not or who rarely drank had the best health outcomes. They were also the group most likely to be practicing a healthy lifestyle at age 24. A healthy lifestyle was measured by things like exercise, wearing seat belts, and driving safely.
Those identified in the Late Onset category were more often ill compared to non-drinkers and also had a 50 percent greater chance of being a passenger or driver in a drunk or high driving episode.
Those within the Escalator category showed more evidence of risky driving compared to lighter drinkers or non-drinkers. They were also those with the highest rates of crime, drug use and other behaviors considered anti-social.
What Parents Need To Realize And Do About Teen Drinking
Prior studies have shown the more immediate negative outcomes for teens who take part in heavy drinking. Those kids are more likely to be involved in a serious or fatal car crash and have a greater chance of taking part in risky sex. This new study is the first to take a look at later outcomes (up to age 24).
Parents who sit down with their teen and show them that drinking, especially early and heavy drinking, puts them at risk now and in the future are taking the very best precautions against teen binge drinking and its serious health consequences.