More Depression Cases Among High School Students Despite Falling Alcohol Consumption

Researchers Observe a Divergence in the Relationship Between Binge Drinking and Depression

Findings from a new study of teenagers by researchers at Columbia University suggest a relationship between too much alcohol intake and depression.

Binge Drinking

Binge Drinking

In the study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, researchers reported that fewer teens in the U.S. now engage in binge drinking. Depressive symptoms among these young people, however, have become more common.

Binge drinking and depression are typically regarded as co-morbid disorders. When one is present, the other is likely to appear as well. One condition worsens the other and this can take a serious toll on a person’s wellbeing.

The relationship was thought to be something of a vicious cycle. People with mental issues, such as depression, are likely to seek succor in alcohol.

It could also happen the other way round in some cases. A binge drinker may develop depression eventually.

“Comorbidity of depression and drinking is among the bedrocks of psychiatry epidemiology findings – until now,” said Katherine M. Keyes, Ph.D., associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

The new study shows that both binge drinking and depression are no longer associated with teens in America. It was the first time in 40 years researchers would make such a finding.

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Falling alcohol consumption, more depression cases

Keyes and her colleagues used the data of more than 58,400 “school attending 12th-grade” adolescents for the study. They obtained these from “Monitoring the Future,” nationally representative surveys in the U.S., covering the period from 1991 to 2018.

Binge drinking, in this study, referred to having more than five drinks during the previous two weeks. The research team assessed depression among the subjects using their responses to statements relating to life being hopeless or meaningless.

Findings showed that the seeming link between binge drinking and depressive symptoms was 16 percent weaker in 2018, compared to 1991. The former has dropped significantly over the years, while the latter has seen a rapid increase since 2012.

Among male teens, the relationship fell by 25 percent. The observed drop was 24 percent among girls.

The researchers did not notice any significant link between depression and binge drinking among boys, starting from 2009. However, the relationship was positive among girls for the better part of the study period.

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Reviewing a relationship

Study findings suggest a need for a rethink of the connection between these two disorders, the researchers said. They suggest a dynamic relationship that changes and decouples.

“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,” Keyes said. “Therefore, the relationship between substance use and mental health may need to be reconceptualized for ongoing and future research.”

The associate professor noted that the changing “landscape of the adolescent experience” may impact both alcohol use and mental health.

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