Drinking beyond the binge

The good news is that teenagers, on the whole, are “binge drinking” less, according to a new study. The bad news is that among teens who do “binge drink,” they are doing so in a super serious way.

Most studies on binge drinking — defined as consuming five or more drinks at a sitting — have focused on college students. The new study, by University of Michigan researchers, surveyed a nationally representative sample of more than 16,000 high school seniors from 2005 to 2011, according to news reports.

They found that about 1 in 5 students reported having a binge-drinking episode in the past two weeks. Among that group, half had guzzled 10 or more drinks, and one quarter had 15 or more drinks.

The study revealed while teen binge drinking declined significantly between 2005 and 2011, the numbers for those who engage in extreme binge drinking — downing 10 or more drinks in a row — have barely budged.

Ten or more drinks? Fifteen or more? That’s frightening. Maybe, for starters, we can come up with a better label than “extreme binge drinking” which sounds like an X Games competition.

As Megan Patrick, lead author of the study said: “Fifteen drinks in a row is a lot for anyone. Remember, we’re talking about 18-year-olds. It’s very serious.”

Fifteen drinks in a row is a lot for anyone. That’s an understatement. (Heck, five drinks in a row is a lot for anyone.)

•The researchers embarked on their study to try to explain why rates of visits to the emergency room had not declined, when binge drinking among teens had dropped overall.

“Those who are drinking 15 or more are at high risk of needing hospitalization and other kinds of health care use for negative consequences,” Patrick said. “Even though the overall rate is going down, we’re seeing that the most extreme behaviors are not decreasing.”

Among the study findings, published in JAMA Pediatrics:

•Boys (24.7 percent) were more likely than girls (15 percent) to participate in all levels of binge drinking.

Binge drinking was far more common among white students (23.8 percent) than black students (7.6 percent).

Students from rural areas were more likely to engage in extreme binge drinking than students in urban or suburban communities.

Of all the dangers out there, beer seems so innocuous. And “binging” sounds like an occasional indulgence. But the study numbers ought to prompt a serious conversations at home and school. As their behavior suggests, the kids engaging in the extreme drinking need help, now.

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