Some lawmakers believe that young adults who have been introduced to alcohol at earlier ages may respect it more and not abuse it with gluttony when they move away to college and away from restrictions at home. These lawmakers believe that lowering the drinking age may help reduce reckless drinking and alcohol addiction.
Some researchers differ on that opinion. A recent study by researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found evidence that those who start drinking at earlier ages have greater bouts of binge drinking and that these heavy-drinking episodes may last decades into their lives.
Not How Much, But How Much At One Time
Washington University’s research, published online in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, found that when young adults started drinking alcohol at a younger age they didn’t necessarily drink more alcohol more frequently, but they did binge drink more than those adults in states where the drinking age was twenty-one.
Binge drinking is defined as a male having five or more drinks during one drinking session, and a female having four or more drinks during one session.
In a study of 39,000 people, researchers analyzed the drinking patterns of young adults who lived in states where the drinking age was 18 compared to states where the drinking age was 21. They recorded participant’s daily drinking habits, overall alcohol consumption, and their number of times they engaged in binge drinking. The rate of binge drinking of those who were introduced to alcohol at earlier ages raised concerns in researchers. Their risk for alcohol abuse remained after college and into their adulthood.
The Greater Threat—Frequent Drinking or Binge Drinking?
The risks of binge drinking are high. Heavy drinking episodes can impair a person’s judgment and physical abilities. Binge drinking brings with it risks that include drunk driving, being abused or abusing others, and physical problems that may take a person to the emergency room.
Dr. Richard A. Grucza, senior author of the study, asserts that comparing daily drinking patterns might not tell the whole story of a person’s risk of alcohol abuse. A person may say they rarely drink—yet those infrequent times may be dangerous binges that keep happening over years.
Cautions About Lowering the Drinking Age
Washington University researchers present information that may raise concerns about lowering the drinking age. Another author in the study, Andrew D. Plunk, PhD, cautions that if lawmakers are mainly focused on how to prevent drinking on college campuses, they are missing the affects that drinking at an earlier age has on the entire population of young adults. Their study revealed that keeping the drinking age at 21 helped keep some young adults from falling into a habitual lifetime of binge drinking episodes.