Significant binge drinking among 5th-years


Alcohol consumption among young people in Ireland typically begins around mid-adolescence, with ’significant bingeing’ evident by fifth year in secondary school, a new Irish study has found.

According to researchers at University College Dublin (UCD), underage drinking continues to be a major public health concern, not just in Ireland, but in many parts of the world.

However, heavy drinking by teenagers can have a number of serious health and social consequences, including poor school development, accidents and the future risk of becoming dependent on alcohol.

Adolescence is also the time when most mental health problems begin and the researchers noted that there is evidence that teenagers who use alcohol ’are at increased risk for developing mental health difficulties, including emotional and behavioural problems’.

They decided to look into this further by following the progress of over 6,000 teenagers randomly selected from 72 secondary schools nationwide. All of the participants were aged between 12 and 19 and 51% were female.

The teenagers’ drinking habits and mental health were assessed.

The study found that almost half of the students never drank alcohol, while one in five drank less than once a month. Almost one in five said they drank monthly and one in 10 drank weekly.

As expected, the younger the teenager, the less likely they were to drink. Some 83% of first-year students said they never drank. This fell to 68% in second year. By sixth year, just 8% said they never drank.

The frequency of drinking was ’particularly evident’ in fifth and sixth year. In fifth year, one in five teenagers drank weekly. By sixth year, at least one in four did.

There was little difference found between males and females.

Like drinking in general, binge drinking became more frequent as the teenagers got older. For this study, binge drinking was defined as six or more drinks in one session.

Almost two in three first-year students said they never binged. By sixth year, this had fallen to just one in 10.

The typical amount of alcohol consumed also increased with age. For example, first, second and third-years typically drank one to two drinks in one session. By fifth year, one in three students was consuming five to six drinks, one in four was consuming seven to nine drinks and one in eight was consuming 10 or more drinks in a single session.

Meanwhile the researchers found that 11% of the participants displayed signs of mild depression, 11% had moderate depression, 4% had severe depression and another 4% had very severe depression.

“A strong association was observed between categories of drinking behaviour and severity of depression. Drinking excessively was found to increase the risks for depressive symptoms,” the study noted.

The patterns for depression meanwhile ’were also evident for anxiety and stress’. According to the researchers, this ’clearly demonstrates the strong link between alcohol behaviour and levels of distress’.

They said that these findings show that there is ’a significant shift in the frequency, binge drinking and volume of alcohol consumed across the school year, where alcohol use becomes a particular concern among adolescents in the senior cycle’.

The researchers believe that tackling underage drinking in Ireland requires a multi-faceted approach, ’with the involvement of parents, schools and the wider community’.

“International research suggests that key components of interventions include school strategies focusing on strengthening personal and social protective factors, family approaches such as increasing family cohesion and community strategies, for example, reduction of alcohol availability through regulation,” they explained.

Details of this study are published in the Irish journal, Psychiatry Professional.