Decrease in Link Between Depression and Binge Drinking in Teens

Author Shirley Amy
December 2, 2019

Often, studies show the link between two issues gets stronger. In a new survey by the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, the once-solid relationship between two issues grows further apart each year.

teen drinking

For some college students, binge drinking is a rite of passage. Sneaking some alcohol for one night and getting drunk may seem like a harmless activity, but past studies have linked binge drinking to depression. Researchers have long believed that binge drinking during adolescence and depressive symptoms go hand in hand— until now.

Study Shows Decrease in Adolescent Binge Drinking

Interestingly, a new study performed by the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health and published in the Journal of Adolescent Health has found the link between binge drinking and depressive symptoms to have been decreasing for the past few decades.

U.S. data from 1991-2018 measured the link between binge drinking and feelings of “hopelessness” and “meaninglessness” in adolescents. Binge drinking, in the Monitoring the Future surveys, was defined as an event where five or more drinks were consumed. Depressive symptoms were rated through a questionnaire completed by participants. The participants were all 12th graders.

A close review of the data showed that during the years of 1991-2018, the link between depressive symptoms and binge drinking decreased by 16 percent. Since 2009, there has been no significant link between binge drinking and depressive symptoms for males. However, for females, there has always been a significant link, though still decreasing.

For the last few decades, starting in 1991, binge drinking has been declining amongst U.S. adolescents. The reduction is good news. However, depressive symptoms have increased since 2012. The two subjects, closely linked before 1991, then began a significant divergence in 2012. 

Increase in Adolescent Depression

This divergence has researchers re-thinking their old paradigms regarding alcohol and mental health among young people. What is worrisome is the increase in adolescent depressive symptoms. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), depression is becoming increasingly prevalent in adolescents. SAMHSA’s 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health survey found that 13.3 percent of adolescents between the ages of 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode. The percentage for the same age group in 2016 was 12.8. The Columbia Mailman School of Public Health noted the corresponding increase in depressive symptoms, thus highlighting the need to change how adolescent mental health is addressed. 

Researchers state the need to re-evaluate the complex relationships between the adolescent culture, environment, alcohol consumption, and mental health. To better understand what is occurring to cause an increase in adolescents’ mental health problems, researchers need to relook at the methods used to study substance abuse and mental health. Scientific foundational beliefs regarding mental health may need to be redrawn to incorporate new information and address recent changes in the environment. 

For parents, open communication with their teens to gauge mental health and well being, regardless of known substance use or not, is advised.  Being supportive through active listening and a reasonable limit setting can help to mitigate depressive symptoms.

Author Shirley Amy

Shirley Amy is a Holistic Health Specialist and professional writer who's published 4 books. Her interests include optimum wellness, mental health, fitness, and positive lifestyle change. She holds University and College qualifications in the fields of Health Science, Nutrition, Mental Health, Fitness, Holistic Therapy and Aromatherapy.

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