New test can predict binge drinking teens

Teens who experience stressful life events are at greater risk for binge-drinking.
Photo / 123RF
Teens who experience stressful life events are at greater risk for binge-drinking. Photo / 123RF

A new scientific test is able to detect which 14-year-olds will become binge drinkers by the time they hit 16.

A study published in the journal Nature describes how scientists have developed a system that weighs up a range of risk factors and predicts - with about 70 per cent accuracy - which teens will become heavy drinkers.

Each of the 700 14-year-olds who took part was given 10 hours of comprehensive assessments and observed over several years. The participants from the study are now 19 years old.

"Predictors for current and future adolescent alcohol abuse can be generated using machine learning methods that analyse multiple data sets - such as neuroimaging, family history and life events," said Robert Whelan of University College Dublin.

The researchers found that there were various contributors to risk of alcohol abuse.

"The final model was very broad - it suggests that a wide mixture of reasons underlie teenage drinking."

The best predictors for binge drinking included variables like personality, sensation-seeking traits, lack of conscientiousness and a family history of drug use, Dr Whelan said.

"That type of risk-taking behaviour - and the impulsivity that often accompanies it - was a critical predictor," he said.

In addition, those teens who had experienced several stressful life events were also among those at greater risk for binge-drinking.

Those with "bigger brains", or more immature brains, were also more likely to be heavy drinkers.

"Adolescents undergo significant brain changes, so in addition to the formation of personalities and social networks, it's actually normal for their brains to reduce to a more efficient size.

"There's refining and sculpting of the brain, and most of the gray matter - the neurons and the connections between them, are getting smaller and the white matter is getting larger.

"Kids with more immature brains - those that are still larger - are more likely to drink."

- AAP

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