Diverging trends: Binge drinking and depression

November 14, 2019

November 14, 2019 -- Binge drinking among U.S. adolescents precipitously declined from 1991 to 2018, according to a new study at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. Depressive symptoms among U.S. adolescents have sharply increased since 2012. And for the first time in the past 40 years, binge drinking and depressive symptoms among adolescents are no longer associated. The findings are published online in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

"Comorbidity of depression and drinking is among the bedrocks of psychiatric epidemiology findings - until now. Our results suggest that we need to be re-thinking the connections between mental health and alcohol among young people," said Katherine M. Keyes, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health.

Data were drawn from the U.S. nationally representative Monitoring the Future surveys from 1991-2018 for 58,444 school-attending 12th-grade adolescents. Binge drinking was measured as having more than five drinks during the past two weeks. Depressive symptoms were measured based on agreeing or disagreeing with statements that life is meaningless or hopeless.

The relationship between depressive symptoms and binge drinking decreased by 16 percent from 1991 to 2018 and 24 percent among girls and 25 percent among boys. There had been no significant relation between depressive symptoms and binge drinking among boys since 2009; among girls, the relationship has been positive throughout most of the study period.

The results suggest that, on average, the relationship between binge drinking and depressive symptoms is dynamically changing and decoupling, according to the researchers.

"Although comorbidity between alcohol consumption and mental health is complex, the landscape of the adolescent experience is changing in ways that may affect both consumption and mental health," observed Keyes. "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. Therefore, the relationship between substance use and mental health may need to be reconceptualized for ongoing and future research."
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Co-authors are Ava Hamilton, Columbia Mailman School; Megan Patrick, University of Minnesota; and John Schulenberg, University of Michigan.

The study was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (R01001411, R01DA037902 and R01AA026861.

Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health

Founded in 1922, the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health pursues an agenda of research, education, and service to address the critical and complex public health issues affecting New Yorkers, the nation and the world. The Columbia Mailman School is the third largest recipient of NIH grants among schools of public health. Its over 450 multi-disciplinary faculty members work in more than 100 countries around the world, addressing such issues as preventing infectious and chronic diseases, environmental health, maternal and child health, health policy, climate change & health, and public health preparedness. It is a leader in public health education with over 1,300 graduate students from more than 40 nations pursuing a variety of master's and doctoral degree programs. The Columbia Mailman School is also home to numerous world-renowned research centers, including ICAP and the Center for Infection and Immunity. For more information, please visit http://www.mailman.columbia.edu.

Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health

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