People who grew up in states where it was legal to drink alcohol before age 21 are more likely to be binge drinkers later in life, according to a study by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
The findings are available online in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research . The researchers tracked the long-term drinking behavior of more than 39,000 people who began consuming alcohol in the 1970s, when some states had legal drinking ages as low as 18.
“It wasn’t just that lower minimum drinking ages had a negative impact on people when they were young,” explains first author Andrew D. Plunk, PhD, a post-doctoral research fellow in psychiatry. “Even decades later, the ability to legally purchase alcohol before age 21 was associated with more frequent binge drinking.”
The study shows that people who lived in states with lower minimum drinking ages weren’t more likely to consume more alcohol overall or to drink more frequently than those from states where the drinking age was 21, but when they did drink, they were more likely to drink heavily.
The effect was most pronounced among men who did not attend college. And the researchers say the findings should be a warning to those who advocate lowering the minimum drinking age.
“Binge drinking on college campuses is a very serious problem,” Plunk says. “But it’s also important not to completely forget about young people who aren’t on college campuses. In our study, they had the greatest risk of suffering the long-term consequences linked to lower drinking ages.”