Adolescent drinking level and adult binge drinking in a national birth cohort*


  • *

    All authors contributed to the study design, drafting and final version of the paper. B.J. wrote the first draft and carried out statistical analyses. B.J. is the guarantor.

Barbara Jefferis, Centre for Paediatric Epidemiology and  Biostatistics, Institute of Child Health, 30 Guilford Street, London WC1N 1EH, UK, E-mail:


Aims  To assess (i) continuities in binge drinking across adulthood and (ii) the association between adolescent drinking level and adult binge drinking.

Design  Population-based prospective birth cohort.

Setting  England, Scotland and Wales.

Participants  All births during one week in March 1958 (n = 8520 in analysis).

Measurements  Alcohol consumption reported at 16, 23, 33 and 42 years. Binge drinkers were identified by dividing number of units of alcohol consumed in the last week by usual drinking frequency, with limits of ≥10 units/occasion for men and ≥7 for women.

Findings  Four in five cohort members drank alcohol at least twice a month. Prevalences of binge drinking at 23, 33 and 42 years among men were 37%, 28% and 31% and among women 18%, 13% and 14%. Most binge drinkers in adulthood changed drinking status during this period. Nevertheless, binge drinking at age 23 increased the odds of binge drinking at 42 years: odds ratio (OR) 2.10 (95% CI 1.85, 2.39) for men; OR 1.56 (95% CI 1.29,1.89) for women. Women who rarely or never drank aged 16 were less likely than light drinkers (0–2 units/week) to binge drink as adults, OR at 23 years 0.65 (95% CI 0.55, 0.77). Men who were heavier drinkers (≥7 units/week) at 16 years were more likely than light drinkers to binge drink throughout adulthood; at 42 years, OR 1.64 (95% CI 1.33, 2.08).

Conclusions  Binge drinking is common in British men and women throughout adulthood with continuities between the 20s and 40s. Adolescent drinking has a modest although important association with adult binge drinking.