11/29/2011 11:07 EST | Updated 01/29/2012 05:12 EST

Binge Drinking, Driving While High Growing Health Concerns For Ontario Teens: Study

TORONTO - Students in Ontario are smoking fewer cigarettes, but binge drinking and driving while high are growing health concerns, according to a new report by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

The survey found that while binge drinking among teens dropped a little in the last decade, there are still thousands of high school students downing five or more drinks on a single occasion at least once a month.

"There's a culture among young people of binge drinking that's potentially dangerous, and the challenge is how do you break into that," Dr. Robert Mann, the report's main author, said in an interview Tuesday.

His research showed that alcohol was the substance used by the largest number of students, with 55 per cent saying they'd had a drink in the past year, and one in 10 students reporting binge drinking at times of psychological distress.

"The rate of driving after cannabis also remains high, and is in fact, in this population, higher than the rate of driving after drinking, and that's a concern because there's increasing evidence that cannabis can impair your ability to drive, much in the same way as alcohol can," Mann said.

"There's been a lot of attention to drinking and driving (and there's) an impression that cannabis is a relatively safe drug and a safer alternative to drinking and driving."

Mann also pointed to the use snowmobiles, Sea-Doos or all-terrain vehicles after drinking as a future area of concern, noting that this was the first year teens were asked if they drove any of those vehicles while drinking and seven per cent said they had, at least once, in the past year.

The report also found that 13 per cent of students reported symptoms of a drug-use problem, while one in six students said they were drunk or high at school a least once in the past year.

Girls were as likely to engage in dangerous drinking behaviour as boys, and while there's been in decline in drug use among males, that didn't seem to hold true for females.

Students in Toronto were below the provincial average in the use of alcohol, pot, cocaine and binge drinking, while those in the north were above it.

Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews called the drinking numbers concerning, and said it was a sign that more work needs to be done around public education and supports.

"We're not planning anything new right now but I think the good news on the smoking side tells us that we can move those numbers," said Matthews.

The survey included 9,288 students across the province in

Grades 7 to 12.

Its release comes just days after the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuseissued guidelines on safe drinking, warning adult women to limit alcohol consumption to two drinks a day, and men to stop at three.