Teenagers with body image issues rely on alcohol as coping mechanism, says study

Drinking alcohol is prevalent across communities in all countries. In the United States, drinking is a part of the popular culture where any occasion is celebrated with a peg or two. Unfortunately, alcohol is one of the most addictive substances, killing 88,000 lives people every year in the U.S., as highlighted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). In fact, alcohol has become the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the country.  

Prior studies have cited many reasons for pervasiveness of drinking habits among people. It has become a matter of great concern as to why some adolescents try out alcohol or indulge in binge drinking habits at a tender age. A group of researchers in their study titled “The Association Between Body Image and Behavioral Misperception (BIBM) and Alcohol Use Among High School Girls: Results From the 2013 Youth Risk Behavioral Survey” has suggested a correlation between misconception about body image and irresponsible drinking habits.

Weight issues associated with heavy drinking

The authors tried to examine if suffering from a body image behavioral misperception (BIBM) had any impact on current alcohol use or tendencies to drink heavily in one go. They noted that high school girls, aged between 14 and 18 years, with a negative perception about their body weight are at a greater likelihood to take at least a drink in their lives or get involved in instances of heavy drinking as compared to girls of the same age without any body image issues. The study findings got published online in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs in December 2016.

Teenagers afflicted with BIBM try to lose, maintain or gain weight simply because of their own perception about the status of their weight. Elucidating the importance of the research, senior author Dr. Margie Skeer, an assistant professor of public health and community medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine, said, “Negative self-image can lead to negative behaviors. Body image and behavioral misperception occur when actions are taken based on a perceived weight status or body image.” She also highlighted the importance of paying attention to this behavior in the target population as it could help identify risk behaviors beyond high school.

To investigate the extent to which weight issues might be associated with increasing pervasiveness of substance abuse in the U.S., the scientists evaluated details from the 2013 National Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System. This is a survey carried out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which revealed that:

  • Roughly 37.5 percent of the 6,579 female teenagers had BIBM
  • 7 percent of the girls had taken a minimum of one drink in their life
  • 8 percent indulged in binge drinking during the past one month.

Factors causing rise in alcohol abuse among teenagers with BIBM

The scientists observed that among teenage girls afflicted with BIBM, the probability of drinking alcohol was 1.21 times more than those without BIBM. After taking into consideration all other variables, the inclination to drink rose to 1.29 times among girls with BIBM. The factors affecting alcohol use included being in grade 10, 11 or 12 as compared to being in grade 9. Also, being of the Hispanic or Latina origin as compared to being white raised the risk of alcohol abuse. Other factors such as being sexually active before the girls turned 13 or tobacco smoking during the past one month also resulted in raising the risk. While looking at binge drinking tendencies exhibited by teenagers, girls with BIBM showed 1.22 times more inclination to consume five or more alcoholic beverages in a short period.

The authors of the study are still not sure if teenagers with BIBM drink alcohol as a coping mechanism to gain or lose weight. The scientists intend to look further into hidden factors during the formative years of lives that may help understand the association better.

Addiction to any substance can have debilitating effects on a person’s life as well as impact his or her relations with his family and friends. If you or someone you know is looking for alcohol addiction treatment centers in the U.S.A., contact the Alcohol Addiction Get Help Helpline for the right guidance. You can call our 24/7 helpline number 866-281-3014 or chat online with our experts to know about evidence-based alcohol addiction treatment centers in your area.