Binge Drinking by Teens – World Wide Statistics Suggest Lowering the Drinking Age Doesn’t Help

by The Discovering Alcoholic on July 14, 2009

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One of the areas covered in the U.S. Surgeon General’s 2007 Call to Action to Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking is a presentation of data from the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Drugs, 2003, on binge drinking by European students ages 15-16. As you likely have read, there is an effort by American university and college presidents, called the Amethyst Initiative, that urges a debate on lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18. The belief is that a lower drinking age will remove the temptation to binge drink because alcohol consumption would be legal for students at age 18 (i.e., no need to drink as much as possible when an occasion arises because access will be legal and readily available).

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As shown in Figure 7 on page 9 of the Surgeon General’s report, many European countries have a significant proportion of young people ages 15–16 reporting they binge drink. Binge drinking is defined in this report as 5+ drinks on one occasion. Percentages of students reporting binge drinking on 1-2 occasions in the past 30 days in Denmark, Finland, Russia, Greece, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Iceland, the UK, Ukraine and Norway EXCEEDED students reporting similar binge drinking in the United States. In all of the countries listed, the minimum legal drinking age is lower than in the United States.

These data seem to call into question the suggestion that having a lower minimum legal drinking age, as they do in many European countries, results in less problem drinking by adolescents.

More food for thought for this discussion.

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