Childhood Behavioral Problems and Binge Drinking

A comprehensive study involving more than 1600 participants has established a significant link between behavioral problems in childhood and subsequent adolescent binge drinking.

Researchers at the University of Melbourne in Australia looked at the phenomenon of binge drinking, which was classified in the study as consuming at least five drinks in quick succession more than seven days a month by the time the individual was 17 years of age.

Binge drinking is becoming particularly popular with incident rates soaring since the 1980s. About 60% of the participants were rated as moderate drinkers and 14% were listed as “heavy.” Among the latter, 2% binged regularly from the age of 13, leaving themselves highly vulnerable to memory loss, physical injury, lowered school performance, and family problems.

The psychologist who headed the study, Dr. Katie Waters, used data collected from the Australian Temperament Project. This is a longitudinal study which collates behavioral traits in subjects from infants to old age, meaning that the same subjects are studied over their entire lifetime. This is a valuable tool in looking at how behavioral traits present in childhood may be affecting subsequent adult behavior. In this case, Dr. Waters found a link between children with significant childhood behavioral problems and binge drinking during adolescence.

The behavioral problems tagged as markers for identifying later binge drinking behaviors included aggression, hyperactivity, poor social skills, and volatile temperaments. Of course, possessing these personality traits in childhood does not automatically imply that the child will exhibit problem drinking in later years, only that this cluster of personality traits is more likely on average to coincide with those of the adolescent binge drinker.

So, what can we learn from this? Here we have a means of early intervention at our fingertips, whereby a combination of counseling and behavioral modeling in young at-risk children may result in improved social skills, lowered hyperactivity, and decreased aggression. Not only can the possibility of curbing binge drinking be addressed, but by using early intervention techniques, the child and subsequent adolescent will have improved personal, social, and employment opportunities.

Early observation and intervention certainly provide us with a means of shaping our children’s future. Studies such as these are invaluable in assisting parents to provide the very best future that we can for the next generation.

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