Scientists can now tell which teens will struggle with binge drinking using a new test. This test uses 40 factors to predict which 14 year olds will binge drink when they are 16.
The test has shown an accuracy rate or 70% but it will need some refining before it can be put into common use.
This is because the 40 factors which are tested, including brain structure, personality and an examination of major life events are not cheap to measure. While some of the answers to the test can be gained in an interview, detailed brain scans are needed to make an informed decision about a teen’s likelihood to binge drink.
Dr Robert Whelan, One of the researchers who created the test said that there is no one major factor that can be used predict binge drinking in teens. There are many small factors that all add up and without taking each one into consideration the test is less effective.
Dr Whelan said, "There are three main areas: brain activity and brain structure; personality, so seeking out new things to do increases the risk, whereas conscious tends to make you less likely to binge-drink; and then life events, such as a boyfriend or girlfriend, is highly predictive."
The problem with the test is that it still only gives a 70% accurate reading. This means it has a 30% chance of failure. The test would be most effective if researchers first identified an at risk group and used the test to find the teens with the highest risk of binge drinking. The highest risk teens could then be given special interventions and help.
It is very important to reach these at risk teens because alcohol has a neurotoxic effect. That means it can damage the brain especially if someone binge drinks when they are a teen and their brain is still growing. By preventing binge drinking in teens, researchers may be able to save them from a lifetime of problems.
To negate the expensive brain scans, scientists are now looking to use what they have learned to create a new and cheaper test that could be used on the wider population.
If a new and cheaper test is created, it could shave off some of the £15 billion spent annually by the UK government to treat drug related harm.
To learn more about alcohol abuse, check out the Life Works Alcohol Knowledge Centre.