Study: Lowering drinking age leads to more binge drinking

Paula Wolfson,

WASHINGTON – There is new evidence that lowering the drinking age may result in more binge drinking and not just among the young.

Researchers at the Washington University Medical School in St. Louis followed 39,000 people who came of age in the 1970s when 18 or 19 was the minimum drinking age in many states. They found that those who could get a drink legally before they turned 21 were more likely to be binge drinkers years later.

The study showed that they were not likely to drink more frequently or consume more alcohol overall when compared to people who grew up in states with a higher drinking age. But they were more likely to binge when they did consume alcohol.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers binging five or more drinks in about two hours for men and four or more drinks in two hours for women.

The study results did not come as a surprise to Babette Wise, director of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program at Medstar Georgetown University Hospital.

“We know that when people start drinking at a younger age, whenever that is, that they are more likely to develop problems,” she says.

But another aspect of the study shocked her. The researchers say the men in the study who did not go to college turned out to be bigger bingers.

In the overall study, researchers found that men who grew up in states with a lower drinking age were 19 percent more likely to binge drink more than once a month. When they looked at just men who did not go to college in those states the likelihood jumped to 31 percent.

“I work with college students a lot and there is a serious problem there, and I am trying to understand why in less-educated, more blue-collar areas they would be drinking more,” says Wise.

She says more stress and less opportunity may be factors. And she suggests that many of these bingers may see alcohol as a cheap form of entertainment or view binging almost as a sport.

Wise says starting to drink at an earlier age certainly did not help their emotional development.

“People who start drinking at a young age, especially binge drinking, they are stunted developmentally,” she says. They have a more difficulty dealing with problems, stress and sadness.

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