Researchers are able to predict with a 70 percent accuracy which teens will go on to develop a binge drinking habit within the next two years by looking at 40 different factors, including brain structure and function, personality, life experiences and genetics, in 14-year-old teens.
Impulsivity, hopelessness, sensation-seeking traits, lack of conscientiousness, and other variables such as life events and a family history of drug use contribute to the likelihood of binge drinking. Whether or not the child had had a single drink at age 14 was a particularly powerful predictor, the researchers found. Slightly over 40% of North American 13 and 14 year olds have used alcohol, while 10% of Quebec high school students graduate from high school with substance use problems. The study was driven by the IMAGEN consortium, a European research project on risk taking behaviour in teenagers. Patricia Conrod of the University of Montreal and CHU Sainte-Justine Hospital Research Centre designed the original assessment battery and the participant recruitment strategy for the IMAGEN study. She also developed the brief personality scale that was shown to be highly predictive of drinking at 14 and 16 years of age. The first and senior authors of the research article are affiliated with the University of Vermont, University College Dublin, and Trinity College Dublin.
Indeed, the findings do not suggest that binge drinking is hardwired but rather give professionals working with youth ways of finding people in need of help. "The personality dimensions that were shown to be highly predictive of behaviour were assessed using a scale that is currently being used in schools across Montreal to provide targeted prevention to youth at risk of substance misuse," Conrod said. "Early alcohol use strongly predicts adult alcohol dependence, and every year we can delay alcohol use translates to a 10% decrease in the likelihood of alcoholism later. Outreach efforts that correctly target particularly at risk youth can therefore be of lifelong significance and importance to that person."