Sixteen per cent of young Australian women have been classified as "extremely frequent" binge drinkers and may be increasing their risk of depression, according to new research from the University of Newcastle (UON).
Jennifer Powers from UON’s Research Centre for Generational Health and Ageing said her findings provide further evidence of the need for new prevention strategies to curb binge drinking in adolescence.
The research was based on data reported by more than 8,000 women from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health (ALSWH). The study identified five binge drinking patterns between the ages of 16 and 21.
Ms Powers said 16 per cent of women reported having five or more drinks per session (binge drinking) extremely frequently — usually more than once a week.
"The women in this binge drinking category were at elevated risk of depressive symptoms in both the short-term of one to six years, and the long-term of 10 to 15 years," Ms Powers said.
"These findings suggest that there is a lasting impact of heavy drinking on mental health and that there is a threshold where the risk of depression not only increases but is sustained over time."
The research found that 26 per cent of young women were binge drinking 'very frequently' — usually once a week, and for 17 per cent it was a 'frequent' occurrence, mostly around once a month.
About 17 per cent of women reported that their binge drinking had fluctuated but was usually rare, while 24 per cent reported that they had rarely engaged in binge drinking.
To investigate whether binge drinking preceded depression, researchers excluded data from women who reported symptoms of depression at baseline, but Ms Powers said it is clear the relationship is complex.
"Further research is needed to investigate whether poor mental health leads to binge drinking, or whether there could be a two-way relationship," she said. "For example, women with mild depressive symptoms may be using heavy drinking as a means of self-medicating.
"Given the high rates of depression among young women more consideration should be given to prevention strategies to decrease the frequency of binge drinking in adolescence."