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College Students of Both Genders Binge Drinking More

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Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine found that a decline in binge drinking among males 12- to 20-years-old did not extend to females of the same age, and that both male and female college students are bingeing more.

The researchers studied data on 500,000 subjects from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health and found an overall reduction in binge drinking between 1979 and 2006, especially among males age 20 and younger. Among males aged 15 to 17, binge-drinking rates declined nearly 50 percent; in males aged 18 to 20, rates declined more than 20 percent; and bingeing by males aged 21 to 23 fell by 10 percent.

Researchers credited the national age-21 drinking law for the decline in binge drinking, especially among younger teens, and said there is no evidence to suggest that raising the drinking age to 21 in 1989 fueled an increase in binge drinking.

On the other hand, among women aged 15 to 20 binge-drinking rates were unchanged, while for women 21 to 23, binge drinking rose by 20 percent among non-students and a staggering 40 percent among female college students. Binge-drinking rates among college men remained unchanged during the study period despite the overall declines reported among males in the same age group.

“The tendency for binge drinking to decline in society has not permeated our college campuses,” said lead author Richard A. Grucza, Ph.D. “Some researchers have speculated that because colleges are made up of young, mostly unmarried people — with no parental control and no spouse to check in with — they may be more likely to drink to excess than people of the same age who live with their parents or have a spouse. Plus, most have easy access to alcohol because at least some of their peers are 21 or older.”

The study appears in the July 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

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