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Member Research and Reports

Columbia: Diverging Trends: Binge Drinking and Depression — Study Finds Relationship Declined among High Schoolers

Binge drinking among U.S. adolescents precipitously declined since 1991, according to a new study at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. Depressive symptoms among U.S. adolescents have sharply increased since 2012. And for the first time in the past 40 years, binge drinking and depressive symptoms among adolescents are no longer associated. The findings are online in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

“Comorbidity of depression and drinking is among the bedrocks of psychiatric epidemiology findings – until now. Our results suggest that we need to be re-thinking the connections between mental health and alcohol among young people,” said Dr. Katherine M. Keyes, associate professor of epidemiology.

Data were drawn from the U.S. nationally representative Monitoring the Future surveys from 1991–2018 for 58,444 school-attending 12th-grade adolescents. Binge drinking was measured as any occasion of having more than five drinks during the past two weeks. Depressive symptoms were measured based on agreeing or disagreeing with statements that life is meaningless or hopeless.

The relationship between depressive symptoms and binge drinking decreased by 16 percent from 1991 to 2018 and 24 percent among girls and 25 percent among boys. The results suggest that the relationship between binge drinking and depressive symptoms is dynamically changing and decoupling, according to Dr. Keyes.

“The declining correlation between binge drinking and mental health is occurring during a time of unprecedented decreases in alcohol consumption among U.S. adolescents and increases in mental health problems,” observed Dr. Keyes. “Therefore, the relationship between substance use and mental health may need to be reconceptualized for ongoing and future research.”

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