Predictors of Binge Drinking in Teens

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Using factors such as genetics and brain function, it is possible to predict with 70% which teenagers will become binge drinkers, according to a new study in Nature.

A new study published online in Nature found it is possible to predict with 70% accuracy which teens will become binge drinkers. A number of factors, including genetics, brain function, and 40 or so different variables, were gathered to make this conclusion.

Robert Whelan, PhD, of the University College of Dublin, and Hugh Garavan, PhD, of the University of Vermont, conducted 10 hours of comprehensive assessments to predict likelihood of binge drinking, including neuroimaging to assess brain activity and structure, along with measuring IQ, cognitive task performance, personality, and blood tests on 2,400 14-year-olds at 8 sites across Europe.

“Our goal was to develop a model to better understand the relative roles of brain structure and function, personality, environmental influences and genetics in the development of adolescent abuse of alcohol,” Whelan said in a statement. “This multidimensional risk profile of genes, brain function and environmental influences can help in the prediction of binge drinking at age 16 years.”

Some of the best predictors include sensation-seeking traits, lack of conscientiousness, and a family history of drug use. Having even a single drink at age 14 was a powerful predictor. Teens who had experienced several stressful life events were among those at greater risk for binge drinking.

Having bigger brains was also predictive of binge drinking, and the study authors said that a large brain size was an indication of immaturity because refining and sculpting of the brain and most of the gray matter is occurring in these years. The gray matter is getting smaller and the white matter is getting larger during the maturation process during adolescence.

“Kids with more immature brains, those that are still large, are more likely to drink,” Garavan said in a statement.

The researchers believe that by better understanding the probably causal factors for binge drinking, targeted interventions for those most at risk could be applied.

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