Binge drinking 'important concern' for Ont. teens

Binge drinking by students in Ontario remains elevated, a new survey suggests.

Binge drinking by students in Ontario remains elevated, a new survey suggests.

The report by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health on drug use surveyed 9,288 students across the province in Grades 7 to 12.

Alcohol was the substance used by the largest number of students, with 55 per cent of respondents reported drinking alcohol between October 2010 and June 2011.  

Binge drinking rates have dropped from 28 per cent, seen a decade ago, to 22 per cent, which  represents 223,500 high school students in Ontario who said they drank five or more drinks on one occasion at least once a month.

"I think the biggest concern with binge drinking is that …when youth binge drink and they're having five or more drinks in one sitting, they're really vulnerable to having accidents and to being in situations where they can get hurt," Gloria Chaim, deputy clinical director in child, youth and family program at CAMH, said Tuesday.

Last week, the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse issued guidelines on safe drinking. The document recommends that women limit alcohol consumption to two drinks a day, and for men to stop at three.

"An important concern is that about one in 10 students report harmful drinking patterns in conjunction with elevated psychological distress," said the study's principal investigator, Dr. Robert Mann.

An estimated 175,600 students or 18 per cent reported hazardous or harmful drinking behaviours.

The rate of teens driving after cannabis also remained high, Mann said. 

 The finding is a concern since evidence suggests that cannabis can impair the ability to drive much as alcohol can, he noted.

High-caffeine energy drinks were the second-most commonly consumed substance after alcohol, with half of youth using the caffeinated beverages.

CAMH researchers have conducted the survey every two years since 1977.

For the first time, students were asked about whether they had ever operated a snowmobile, boat, Sea-Doo or all-terrain vehicle after drinking alcohol. Seven per cent said that they had done so at least once in the past year.

Mann called it encouraging that the majority said they didn't smoke cigarettes. The proportion of students who smoke cigarettes dropped from 12 per cent in the previous 2009 survey to 9 per cent, a record low since 1977.

Use of opioid pain relievers such as Percocet and Tylenol 3 dropped to 14 per cent from nearly 18 per cent in 2009.

The survey was administered by the Institute for Social Research at York University.  Support was provided by hmv Canada.

With files from CBC's Natalie Kalata and The Canadian Press