We all know that drinking alcohol under the age of 21 is illegal, but according to a new study, more than 1 in 10 kids between the ages of 12 and 20 drink.

This growing problem of binge drinking among teens may be getting some help in the form of a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Dublin in Ireland. Researchers claim they have developed a method to predict which teenagers are most likely to become binge drinkers.

In explaining the basis for the study, lead researcher Dr. Robert Whelan, a former University of Vermont (UVM) postdoctoral fellow in psychiatry who is now based at the School of Psychology at University College Dublin, explained that studying brain structure was one of many factors researchers looked into.

"Our goal was to develop a model to better understand the relative roles of brain structure and function, personality, environmental influences and genetics in the development of adolescent abuse of alcohol," explained Whelan. "This multidimensional risk profile of genes, brain function and environmental influences can help in the prediction of binge drinking at age 16 years."

For the study, researchers applied a very broad range of measures, and went about developing a specific analytic method for their predictions. The team confirmed the reliability of its results by testing two separate groups of teens over a several year period.

The result of the testing on both groups was a list of predictors the team arrived at that included distinct brain patterns as well as genetics, specific personality traits and common personal history factors. They found over 40 different variables that can help scientists predict with about 70 percent accuracy which teens will become binge drinkers. The study appears in the journal Nature.

"Notably, it's not the case that there's a single one or two or three variables that are critical," says senior author Dr. Hugh Garavan, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont. "The final model was very broad -- it suggests that a wide mixture of reasons underlie teenage drinking."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines binge drinking as having five or more drinks in a row for men and four or more drinks at a time for women. Recent CDC research is now making links in the rising in number of car accidents and fatal health issues related to binge drinking and the organization is stressing an urgent need to resolve this issue. The CDC is particularly concerned about the affect it is having on women.

The CDC defines binge drinking for women as consuming 4 or more alcohol drinks (beer, wine, or liquor) on an occasion. About 1 in 8 women aged 18 years and older and 1 in 5 high school girls binge drink, according to CDC statistics. Women who binge drink do so frequently -- about 3 times a month -- and have about 6 drinks per binge.

"Binge drinking is a dangerous behavior but is not widely recognized as a women's health problem. Drinking too much -- including binge drinking -- results in about 23,000 deaths in women and girls each year," the CDC explains. "Binge drinking increases the chances of breast cancer, heart disease, sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancy, and many other health problems. Drinking during pregnancy can lead to sudden infant death syndrome and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders."

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