Youths who binge drink are often choosing spirits (or “hard alcohol”) — particularly vodka — and their binge drinking is concentrated among a relatively small number of brands, according to a new study by researchers with the BU School of Public Health and the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The study, published in the Journal of Substance Use, is the first to document alcohol brands used for binge drinking – defined as five or more drinks in a row for males, or four or more drinks in a row for females — by underage youths, ages 13-20.
The researchers found that underage youths were more likely to report having consumed spirits than beer in recent binge-drinking episodes. Spirits accounted for 43.8 percent of binge episodes, while beer accounted for less than one-third of episodes. Within spirits, vodka accounted for the most binge reports: 11.7 percent of all binge reports, and 26.7 percent of all binge reports among spirits brands.
Among youths, the brands most likely to be used for binge drinking were: Bud Light (13.5 percent of all youth), Jack Daniel’s bourbons (7 percent), Smirnoff malt beverages (6.8 percent), Budweiser (6.5 percent), Coors Light (6.1 percent), and Smirnoff vodkas (5.6 percent).
The authors said the inclusion of some relatively expensive brands in the top-25 binge brand list suggests that variables other than price are driving youth brand preferences.
Survey respondents were asked about past 30-day consumption of 898 brands of alcohol within 16 different alcoholic beverage types. Out of the 898 brands, the top 25 binge brands accounted for almost half, or 46.2 percent, of all binge reports.
Previous research from the authors found that the 25 leading brands for overall consumption accounted for 41.8 percent of youth consumption, suggesting that youth binge drinking is similarly brand-concentrated.
“Binge drinking accounts for most of the alcohol consumed by youth in the U.S., and is associated with a host of negative consequences, including drunk driving, sexual assaults and suicide,” said lead study author Dr. Timothy Naimi, an associate professor at the BU schools of public health and medicine.
“Identifying the types of alcohol and specific brands youth are choosing when they binge drink is important for the development of public health interventions designed to curtail this dangerous public health problem.”
The study also affirms that binge drinking remains the predominant pattern of youth drinking in the U.S. Results show that two-thirds of all youth drinks were consumed during binge-drinking occasions, and more than half — 50.9 percent — of youth drinkers reported binge drinking with at least one brand during the past 30 days.
Each year, approximately 4,300 young people under 21 die as a result of alcohol use, the authors noted. They said the new study underscores the need to increase efforts to address youth alcohol access and consumption.
Co-authors included: Dr. Michael Siegel and William DeJong, professors of community health sciences; Catherine O’Doherty, a recent BUSPH graduate; and David Jernigan, director of CAMY.
The research was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.