Depression and anxiety disorders have a high disease burden and as many as 15% of young people report mental health problems. Binge drinking, which is a particularly harmful way of consuming alcohol, is common among secondary school students.
The aim of this study was to examine the association between binge drinking and self-reported mental health in boys and girls aged 12 to 18 years.
This cross-sectional analysis was performed on data collected by the Community Health Service (GGD) Brabant Zuidoost, the Netherlands, in 2007. In this Youth Survey, 10 090 randomly selected adolescents aged 12 tot 18 years were each sent a letter, a questionnaire, and a user name and log-in code for if they preferred to complete the Internet version of the questionnaire. Mental health was assessed using the Mental Health Inventory (MHI-5), a short 5-item questionnaire to detect feelings of depression and anxiety. Participants were asked about current alcohol consumption, their relationship with their parents, drug use, and sociodemographic data. Corrected for confounders, binge drinking and mental health problems were associated in the 12 to 15 year old girls (OR 2.43; 95% CI 1.86-3.17, p=0.000) and boys (OR 1.64, 95% CI 1.19-2.27, p=0.003). The majority of the 16 to 18 year old adolescents had been binge drinking in the previous 4 weeks (69.6% boys and 56.8% girls). In this age group, boys with mental health problems were less likely to be classified as binge drinkers than were boys without mental health problems (OR 0.63, 95% CI 0.45-0.87, p=0.005). No such association between binge drinking and mental health was found in girls of this age.
Girls and boys aged 12-15 years were classified as binge drinkers significantly more often when they reported poor mental health. Because binge drinking damages the brain, especially at a young age, it is important that health professionals are alert to possible binge drinking when young adolescents report mental health problems and should ask their patients about their drinking behaviour. Likewise, if youngsters under 16 present with binge drinking, they should be asked whether they are anxious or depressed.