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November 2013

Trends in Extreme Binge Drinking Among US High School Seniors

Author Affiliations
  • 1Division of Epidemiology and Prevention Research, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Bethesda, Maryland
JAMA Pediatr. 2013;167(11):996-998. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.3083

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as the amount of alcohol leading to a blood alcohol level (BAL) of 0.08%, which, for most adults, would be reached by consuming 5 drinks for men or 4 drinks for women during a 2-hour period.1 For younger drinkers, this increases short- and long-term risk of blackouts, homicides, car crashes, sexual assaults, altered brain development, and other deleterious outcomes.2 In the early 1980s, before all states adopted age 21 years as the minimum legal drinking age,3 the percentage of high school seniors who consumed 5 or more drinks on occasion during the last 2 weeks exceeded 40%. In contrast, as highlighted in the article by Patrick et al,4 a total of 20.2% of seniors consumed 5 or more drinks at a single setting in the last 2 weeks between 2005 and 2011. However, high school seniors varied regarding how much they exceeded the binge threshold. On occasion, 10.5% consumed 10 to 14 drinks, and 5.6% consumed 15 drinks or more. Between 2005 and 2011, the percent of students who peaked at 5 to 9 drinks and 10 to 14 drinks per occasion declined but not the percent of students peaking at 15 or more drinks. These findings might help explain why some consequences of underage drinking, such as hospitalizations for overdoses,5 are on the rise, despite general declines in binge drinking.

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