A new survey analyzed by researchers at the Indiana University Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health – Indianapolis (IUPUI) shows binge drinking among young adults ages 18 to 25 in 10 Indiana counties increased after they turned 21, rather than tapering off, as had been the case in the past. Those findings mirror national statistics showing that increased binge drinking among young adults now extends beyond the peak that was associated with the legal drinking age.
The findings are troubling because binge drinking is the most common, costly and deadly pattern of excessive alcohol use in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Indiana Partnerships for Success Young Adult Survey was administered to more than 1,100 young adults in Cass, Clark, Floyd, Knox, Lake, Madison, Marion, Porter, Scott and Vanderburgh counties. Those counties were surveyed because the state has identified them as having a high prevalence or high risk of either underage drinking or prescription drug misuse among young adults.
The Center for Community Health Engagement and Equity Research at the Fairbanks School of Public Health developed the questions for the survey and analyzed the responses.
Dr. Marion S. Greene, a visiting research assistant professor with the Fairbanks School of Public Health and lead analyst on this survey, said it had been the case that binge drinking increased among young adults until the ages of 21 or 22 and then slowly decreased, a development called “aging out.”
After adjusting for other factors, 18-to-21-year-olds enrolled in college were 77 percent more likely to binge drink than those not enrolled.
“What we found in the survey is that binge drinking for those 22 to 25 years old continued on, rather than tapering off,” she said. “It’s taking longer for people to mature, to really change their behaviors.”
Changing social norms, including more young adults attending college and people delaying the age at which they marry and start families, may be contributing to that shift, Dr. Greene said. Young people often delay marriage until they feel financially stable, and research shows that increasing college debt and inconsistent income are related to delays in marriage.
Delaying the age at which people marry and have dependents also delays binge drinking-related protective factors that accompany those steps in life, according to researchers. For example, young adults ages 22 to 25 who were living with a spouse were 70 percent less likely to engage in binge drinking than their peers who were single.
“But we also found there are some stressors, such as work-related stress, school-related stress and relationship-related stress, that increase the risk of engaging in binge drinking,” Dr. Greene said. “You cannot remove stress from life. It’s just part of it.”
Researchers believe one prevention strategy that could help is teaching people life skills needed to cope with life’s stressors in healthy ways before they become young adults.