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Lowered Drinking Age Increases Rates of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse

posted 11:36 PM EST, Sun September 20, 2009
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Lowered Drinking Age Increases Rates of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse © Photo Credit: A Tai.

People who came of age in states with a drinking age of 18 are far more likely to have current day problems with alcohol and drug addiction than people who grew up in states that enforced a legal minimum drinking age of 21.

Although all American states now mandate a minimum legal drinking age of 21, before the mid 1980’s many states set their independent drinking age at 18. These states changed their drinking age to 21 only after federal legislators linked full access to government funding with compliance to a nationally set drinking age.

Researchers at Washington University in St Louis were interested to see what effect, if any, having younger access to alcohol has on rates of drug and alcohol abuse amongst an adult population. The researchers gained access to data on 33 869 Americans born between 1948 and 1970 and looked for statistically significant differences in substance use behaviors between those who lived in states that allowed them to buy alcohol before the age of 21, and those who did not. Of the subjects, 52% grew up in states that allowed them the purchase of alcohol prior to their 21st year.

The Results

The researchers found that people coming of age in states that allowed them the purchase of alcohol before 21 were 70% more likely to have experienced past year drug abuse and 30% more likely to have experienced past year alcoholism.

The researchers controlled for ethnicity and environmental variables when performing the statistical analysis.

Lead researcher, Dr. Karen Norbeg says that based on these statistics, had all states enforced a drinking age of 21 from the 1970’s on, substance abuse problems amongst those born after 1948 would have declined by 15%.

Dr Norberg and her team suggest that, whatever the reason for the decrease in alcohol and drug abuse associated with an under 21 restriction on alcohol sales, “that there are very long-term benefits to a higher drinking age.”

The research appears in the December issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

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