Researchers from the University College Dublin in Ireland have developed a new test that could help predict the the risk of binge drinking among teenagers.
The study, which was published recently in the journal Nature, was designed to fill in the gaps in previous research that demonstrates that genetics plays a role in substance use, abuse, and dependency. Researchers wanted to determine what other factors contributed to these patterns, especially environmental factors.
Using 2,400 teenagers, age 14, from across Europe, the scientists gathered data on life events, personality, ability to perform cognitive tasks, demographics and genetics. They also used MRI scans to better understand the structures of the participants’ brains.
Data collected was then analyzed to create a model that might allow researchers to predict which teens would binge drink. The teens were followed for five years to determine whether or not they began binge drinking.
Results indicated that those who had experienced some sort of trauma or otherwise distressing life event by the age of 14 were more likely to binge drink both at their current age and within the five years of the study. Those who began drinking around the age of 16 were shown in MRIs at the age of 14 to have less grey matter. Personality traits, like seeking a sense of reward from new experiences, also had predictive power in the test.
Part of the importance of the test is its potential use for preventative measures to help curb risky drinking habits in underage persons. According to research, the risk of developing dependence on a substance is reduced by 10 percent for every year of delay in usage.