Teen binge drinkers are significantly more likely to become heavy drinkers as adults and find themselves with a string of criminal convictions, indicates a study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
The researchers monitored the health and prospects of more than 11,000 UK children born in 1970 (The 1970 British Birth Cohort Study) at the ages of 16 and 30.
They collected information on binge drinking during the preceding fortnight and habitual drinking during the previous year from the 16 year olds. One in four of the16 year olds were habitual drinkers, drinking more than two to three times a week.
Binge drinking was classified as two or more episodes in which four or more drinks had been consumed in a row. Almost 18% fell into this category of drinker, with more young men than women binge drinking.
At the age of 30, participants were asked to reveal their levels of heavy drinking based on weekly consumption, illicit drug use, mental health problems, educational achievement and employment and personal history. By the age of 30, those who had been habitual drinkers at the age of 16 were more likely to be problem drinkers and to use illegal drugs as adults.
Those who had been binge drinkers at the age of 16 were 60% more likely to be dependent on alcohol and 70% more likely to regularly drink heavily than those who had not been binge drinkers at the age of 16.
And they were also more likely to have a host of other problems.
They were 40% more likely to use illegal drugs and to have mental health problems.
They were 60% more likely to be homeless, and they ran almost double the risk of criminal convictions.
And they were 40% more likely to have had accidents.
They were also almost four times as likely to have been excluded from school and 30% more likely to have gained no qualifications. After adjustment for other factors likely to influence the findings, the results remained largely unchanged.
The differences in outcomes between the youthful habitual drinkers and the binge drinkers suggest that binge drinking brings a distinct set of problems of its own, say the authors.
Efforts to curb rates of binge drinking should be set within the wider context of adolescent risk behaviour rather than just concentrating on alcohol use, access, and availability, they conclude.