Binge drinking linked to poorer mental health, quality of life: Study

Binge drinking is defined as having at least four standard drinks for women and at least five standard drinks for men within a two-hour period.
Binge drinking is defined as having at least four standard drinks for women and at least five standard drinks for men within a two-hour period.PHOTO: UNSPLASH

SINGAPORE - Here's a timely reminder for the festive season - Go easy on the alcohol!

A local study has found that binge drinking is associated with poorer mental health and quality of life.

Researchers from the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) and the Ministry of Health (MOH) found that an estimated 13.7 per cent of the population in Singapore engaged in binge drinking within the last year of being surveyed.

This is lower than the global average of 18.2 per cent estimated by the World Health Organisation, but still higher than what has been reported for some other Asian societies like in Hong Kong (7.3 per cent) and Japan (12.7 per cent of adult men and 3.4 per cent of adult women), the study said.

Binge drinking is defined as having at least four standard drinks for women and at least five standard drinks for men within a two-hour period.

Consistent with similar findings in previous studies conducted both here and elsewhere, men were found to be more likely to binge-drink than women.

Among the 6,126 respondents surveyed, 17.6 per cent of the men reported binge drinking compared to just 9.8 per cent of the women.

The researchers examined data from the Singapore Mental Health Study 2016, which was conducted between August 2016 and March 2018.

They found that although most people who engaged in binge drinking here do so infrequently, there was still moderate to strong association between binge drinking and mental health conditions like mood disorders.

Those who engaged in binge drinking were also more likely to report a lower mental health-related quality of life compared to those who did not. A questionnaire covering various health aspects such as physical functioning, bodily pain, social functioning and mental health was used to score the respondents' quality of life.

Men who binge-drink were more likely to report worse overall quality of life compared to women who did so.

 
 
 

But association between anxiety disorders and binge drinking were found only in female respondents. The researchers said the data suggested binge drinking affected male and female drinkers differently.

The data also revealed demographic differences between infrequent binge drinkers who do so up to three times a month and frequent binge drinkers, who do so at least once a week, they added. 

Binge drinkers who did so infrequently tended to be younger and had higher incomes and higher education levels. Frequent binge drinkers tended to be older, had lower incomes and lower education levels.

In terms of ethnicity, Malay respondents were the least likely to binge-drink with just 3.8 per cent reporting that they did. Respondents whose ethnicity was given as "Others" were the most likely to binge-drink, with almost one in four (24.8 per cent) acknowledging that they did.

Among Chinese and Indian respondents, the prevalence of binge drinking for both groups was the same at 14.7 per cent.

One limitation of the study was that it did not determine whether binge drinking caused the mental health conditions or the other way around.

The interviews were also conducted face-to-face, which could have led to respondents giving inaccurate answers due to perceptions of social desirability, the study said.

Previous studies have suggested that the prevalence of binge drinking in Singapore may be on the rise.

The National Population Health Survey 2016/2017, conducted by the MOH, found that the rate rose from 2.2 per cent in 2001 to 9 per cent in 2017.

The difference between the prevalence rates reported in the two studies may be due to methodological differences, noted the authors of the new study. The MOH survey had asked respondents whether they engaged in binge drinking within the last month, while the new study asked for such behaviour in the past year.

IMH research division director Mythily Subramaniam, the new study's corresponding author, told The Straits Times that binge drinking behaviour could progress to more severe alcohol use disorders such as alcohol abuse and dependence if not corrected.

"In today's society, it is difficult to ask people to refrain from drinking. However, people must drink responsibly," said Dr Mythily, who is also an associate professor of neuroscience and mental health at the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine and the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.

"Young people often tend to consume several drinks in a short space of time without realising the adverse consequences."

Although binge drinking was problematic, the behaviour could be managed and negative outcomes avoided if detected early, Dr Mythily added.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO ST'S HEALTH CHECK PODCAST