June 4, 2015

Strong Adult Alcohol Policies Found to Affect Binge and Underage Drinking, Study Finds

A landmark study by Boston University and Boston Medical Center researchers reveals that states with stronger alcohol policies have lower rates of youth overall drinking and binge drinking.

The study, “Youth Drinking in the United States: Relationships with Alcohol Policies and Adult Drinking,” published in the journal Pediatrics, further suggests that the link is largely a result of policies intended mostly for adults and their effects on reducing adult binge drinking.

The first-of-its kind study, supported, in part, by the National Institutes of Health, reviewed data on 29 youth-specific and adult policies on drinking to establish scores characterizing each state’s alcohol policy environment. Higher scores were given to states with more effective and better-implemented policies. The research team then related those policy scores to youth drinking data from states’ Youth Risk Behavior Surveys from 1999 to 2011.

The study found that each 10 percentage point increase in the strength of a state’s policy environment was related to an 8 percent reduction in the likelihood of youth drinking any alcohol, and a 7 percent reduction in the likelihood of binge drinking, defined as drinking past the point of intoxication.

“Our results strongly support other evidence about the power of public policies to reduce excessive drinking and related medical and social problems,” Timothy Naimi, MD, MPH, a pediatrician at BMC and associate professor of public health and medicine, said in a news release.

The study explored the controversial minimum legal drinking age law, concluding that it has saved thousands of lives of people of all ages. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the National Minimum Drinking Age Act (NMDAA) has saved some 17,000 lives on the highways since 1988.

“When it comes to saving young people’s lives, the bottom line is that state legislators can make improvements by adopting and strengthening policies that curb excessive drinking among the entire population. Youth drinking is too often treated as an age-specific problem, and focusing solely on youth-specific interventions, while ignoring adult drinking behavior, is a bit like putting a screen door on a submarine,” Naimi said.


Strategizer 31 – Guidelines for Advocacy: Changing Policies and Laws to Create Safer Environments for Youth

Strategizer 55 – Regulating Alcohol Outlet Density: An Action Guide

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