Patterns: Drinking Age Affects Bingeing, to a Point

A new study finds that as the drinking age has gone up, binge drinking has gone down — except among college students.

Writing in The Journal of the American Academy of Child and
Adolescent Psychiatry, researchers said that binge drinking among 18-
to 20-year-old men who did not attend college had declined more than 30
percent.

But the rate remained steady — and significant — among male college students. And it went up among female students.

In
1984, the federal government decided to withhold highway money from any
state that did not have a minimum drinking age of 21, and over time all
the states fell into line. As a result, public health experts say,
highway fatalities have gone down, among other health benefits.

But
some college officials have raised questions about whether the higher
age has forced drinking underground and encouraged excessive alcohol use. And some state lawmakers have been taking a new look at the issue.

For the study,
researchers looked at information gathered from 1979 to 2006 by the
National Survey on Drug Use and Health about binge drinking, which is
defined as having five or more drinks.

Over all, the researchers, led by Richard A. Grucza of the Washington University
medical school, found that binge drinking had gone down — a change they
attributed at least in part to the increased drinking age.

But if
that change has made it harder for high school students to get alcohol,
it is less the case for college students. Living in close quarters with
someone who can legally buy alcohol, Dr. Grucza said, makes it much
more accessible.

The study found that almost half the college
men surveyed, and almost 40 percent of the women, had reported engaging
in binge drinking.