The ability to legally buy alcohol before age 21 is associated with an increased risk of binge drinking later in life, a new study suggests. The study included more than 39,000 people who started drinking in the 1970s, when some states allowed people as young as 18 to purchase alcohol.
People who lived in states with lower minimum drinking ages were not more likely to consume more alcohol overall, or to drink more frequently, compared with those in states with a legal drinking age of 21. However, when they did consume alcohol, they were more likely to drink heavily, Science Daily reports.
“It wasn’t just that lower minimum drinking ages had a negative impact on people when they were young,” lead author Andrew D. Plunk, PhD, of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, said in a news release. “Even decades later, the ability to legally purchase alcohol before age 21 was associated with more frequent binge drinking.”
Plunk found the effect of the minimum legal drinking age was greatest among men who did not attend college. “Binge drinking on college campuses is a very serious problem,” he said. “But it’s also important not to completely forget about young people who aren’t on college campuses. In our study, they had the greatest risk of suffering the long-term consequences linked to lower drinking ages.”
Even decades later, men who grew up in states with a legal drinking age less than 21 were 19 percent more likely to binge drink more than once a month. Among those who did not attend college, the risk of binge drinking more than once a month rose by 31 percent.
The study appears in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.