Scientists Can Tell If Teens Will Grow Up To Become Binge Drinkers

Jul 07, 2014 at 8:36 AM ET

Researchers can now predict if teens will become binge drinkers. Analyzing a number of factors, including brain function, genetics and environment, neuroscientists from The University of Vermont and University College Dublin were able to determine future drinking patterns with 70 percent accuracy.

Conducting interviews, IQ tests, blood work and brain imaging with 2,400 14-year-olds, scientists followed up two years later and found that a combination of pre-existing factors led to a measurable likelihood of developing heavy drinking habits. These factors spanned “sensation-seeking traits, lack of conscientiousness, and a family history of drug use,” along with exposure to stressful life events and the general accessibility of alcohol at a young age.

“Notably, it’s not the case that there’s a single one or two or three variables that are critical,” said Hugh Garavan, study leader and associate professor of psychiatry at The University of Vermont. “The final model was very broad—it suggests that a wide mixture of reasons underlie teenage drinking.”

They also discovered that teens with bigger brains were especially predisposed. This is because our brains reduce in size as we mature, and adolescents with bigger, less developed brains are more likely to reach for a drink. The findings, published in the science journal Nature, will be used to develop early intervention models to reduce the incidence of teen alcohol abuse.