ANN ARBOR—Researchers who study binge drinking in teens have good news and bad news: the good news is the overall rate of frequent binge drinking is declining—but the bad news is, that rate is not falling as quickly for all adolescents.
University of Michigan researchers have found that the proportion of teens who frequently binge drink, or drink five or more drinks in a row at least twice in the past two weeks, has declined in recent years. But that decline is slower among black youth, adolescent girls and adolescents of a low socioeconomic status.
"People may see the decline in this frequent binge drinking as good news but there are concerns," said Bohyun Joy Jang, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Survey Research Center at the Institute for Social Research and lead author of a new study published in the journal Pediatrics.
The U-M researchers analyzed data from 8th, 10th and 12th graders sampled between 1991 and 2015. They found, for example, that the rates of frequent binge drinking in the 13-year-olds declined from 5 percent in 1991-98 to 2.6 percent in 2007-15 and the rate of frequent binge drinking in the 18-year-olds dropped from 20 percent to 14.8 percent.
"Boys' alcohol use has decreased more than girls' use so that there is a narrower gender gap in drinking," said study co-author Megan Patrick, a research associate professor at ISR's Survey Research Center. "This could be due to changes in drinking norms, and also changes in marketing strategies to target young female drinkers."
Jang says they think national and state-level programs targeted at drinking were behind the decline in the frequent binge drinking rate, but that message may not be reaching black youth or adolescents of a lower socioeconomic status.
"Black adolescents have typically been at lower risk for alcohol use, although in recent years the difference appears to be narrowing because frequent binge drinking among white adolescents is decreasing faster than it is among black adolescents," Patrick said. "These results suggest that we should pay more attention to alcohol use among black adolescents."
Jang and Patrick also think the changing way kids socialize might be behind the decline in drinking rates. Rather than hang out at parties, kids might be more interested in connecting through social media.
The researchers drew their data from more than a million youth as part of an ongoing series of national surveys from the Monitoring the Future study, which has been tracking substance use among youth for the past 42 years. It is conducted by a team of researchers at the University of Michigan and is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This study was also funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.