Heavy binge drinking by adolescents and young adults has been linked to long-term health consequences including heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and other metabolic disorders. For people who started drinking later in life and those who drink moderately, the risks are much lower for health conditions known as the metabolic syndrome.
The term "metabolic syndrome" refers to a cluster of metabolic risk factors that increase the chances of developing heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. The exact cause of the metabolic syndrome is not known, but genetic factors, too much body fat (especially in the waist area) and lack of exercise increase the risk of developing the condition, according to the study authors.
Binge Drinking Less Healthy
"To fully understand the effect of alcohol consumption on health, you need to consider lifetime drinking patterns," said Dr. Marcia Russell senior author of the study, in a news release. "Early initiation of alcohol drinking and heavy drinking in adolescence and early adulthood seem to be associated with a number of adverse health effects collectively known as the metabolic syndrome."
In a study of 2,800 people who said they were regular drinkers at some point in their lives, the researchers classified two groups of drinkers. Early peak drinkers drank early in life heavily and then had a sharp reduction of alcohol intake. Stable drinkers were those who drank less, but drank for a longer period of their lives.
Early Peak Drinkers at Risk
In spite of the fact that the early peak drinkers were on average 10 years younger than the stable drinkers, the early peak group had higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome.
"Drinking patterns associated with early peak and stable drinking trajectories were distinctly different," said Russell. "Early peak drinkers generally began drinking earlier than stable drinkers. They drank fewer years, less frequently, and consumed less volume of alcohol over their lifetimes, but averaged more drinks per drinking day and had higher rates of episodic heavy drinking and intoxication."
Source: Fan AZ, et al. "Association of Lifetime Alcohol Drinking Trajectories with Cardiometabolic Risk." Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism Jan 2008