Heavy-drinking adolescents are more likely than their peers to have behavioral and attention problems and suffer from anxiety and depression.

Investigators from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) reviewed a survey of nearly 9000 Norwegian teenagers aged 13-19 years.

Their findings are published in the online journal Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health.

Fully 80 percent of the teenagers said they had tried alcohol, while 29 percent said they had been drunk more than 10 times in their lives.

Boys who drank frequently were more likely to report conduct problems, while girls who drank frequently reported attention and conduct problems, along with depression and anxiety.

Forty-three percent of students who reported behavioral or other problems also reported having been drunk more than 10 times in their lives, while only 27 percent of students who reported few or no conduct problems had been drunk more than 10 times. But boys were only slightly more likely than girls to report drinking heavily.

The team, led by Arve Strandheim from the NTNU Faculty of Medicine’s Department of Public Health and General Practice, used data from a comprehensive, population-based cross-sectional survey called Young HUNT.

Ninety-one percent of the youth population in one Norwegian county answered the drinking and behavioral questionnaire as a part of a larger comprehensive health survey of the entire county’s population aged 13 and older.

Because the study is based on a one-time questionnaire, it does not show a cause-and-effect relationship, the researchers caution. In fact, because conduct and attention problems tend to emerge early in childhood, it seems less likely that adolescent alcohol abuse itself causes mental health problems. But the study does suggest that adolescents with attention and conduct problems are at high risk for developing alcohol problems.

Teenage girls with depression or anxiety symptoms should also be considered at high risk of developing alcohol abuse, the researchers say. This is especially true for younger teen girls (ages 13-16).

Source: Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health