New Study on Laws and Teen Drinking: Adults Matter

June 11, 2015
Researchers from Boston University and Boston Medical Center found that states that cracked down on excessive alcohol use also had lower rates of binge drinking and adolescent drinking. The results were published in the journal Pediatrics. No other study has ever been done like this, especially in terms of how the data was analyzed. “Our results strongly support other evidence about the power of public policies to reduce excessive drinking and related medical and social problems,” said lead study author Timothy Naimi, M.D., M.P.H.

Scoring it out
The study authors reviewed 29 drinking-related laws for youths and adults to determine how harsh each state was on drinking. They scored each state based on how well the policy was understood and what beneficial effects it had. Using these scores, the researchers then studied the data from Youth Risk Behavior Surveys taken between 1999 and 2011. This survey collects data on how frequently students and adolescents binge drink and in what quantity.

For every ten points a state acquired in effective alcohol policies there was a 8% decrease in the rate of adolescent drinking.

The results revealed that every ten points a state acquired in effective alcohol policies led to an 8 percent decrease in the rate of adolescent drinking and a 7 percent drop in binge drinking. The researchers were delighted by their findings, noting that it proves the effectiveness of implementing policies on drinking and substance abuse. They believe their results were accurate because they separated adult alcohol-related laws from youth ones, allowing them to see the differences in policy effects and notice the impact of adult policies on adolescent use. “By investigating how these relationships with youth drinking interplay with the adult drinking environment, we were able to take our analyses much further,” study author Ziming Xuan, Sc.D., S.M., M.A. said. “Adult-oriented alcohol policies likely influence youth via parallel pathways: Some of the effect is directly on youth, and some is indirect through its effects on adults.” A few of the adult laws included reducing the number of stores that sell alcohol and lowering sale hours, increasing alcohol taxes, banning happy hour and cutting off intoxicated people at a bar. The findings also suggest that parents and other adults play a crucial role in adolescent drinking, especially binge drinking and drunk driving. “Adults matter, and when it comes to influencing kids, how adults drink is more important than what they might say about underage drinking,” Naimi noted.

The effect of policies
However, there should be laws created specifically for teens. The researchers used the example of raising the drinking age to 21, which has largely decreased the amount of underage drinking. They concluded that legislators should take notice of studies like theirs that proved the importance of implementing drinking laws for youths and adults to help save lives and reduce the dangers associated with alcohol use and binge drinking. Policymakers will often focus on underage drinking as an age-specific problem, even when there may be large influences from parents and guardians who choose to buy the children alcohol or drink excessively in front of their children.
Drinking under the age of 21 is one of the biggest youth-related problems in the U.S., and alcohol is the most commonly abused substance by youths. People between the age of 11 and 20 drink approximately 11 percent of all the alcohol consumed in the nation, and more than 90 percent of this consumption occurs in a binge drinking method. Binge drinking and excessive alcohol consumption can be very dangerous for underage youths. In 2010, there were about 189,000 emergency room trips made by people under the age of 21 for alcohol-related injuries and accidents.

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