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Keep the Drinking Age High - Tamika Zapolski

Alcohol use in the United States is a serious public health concern, particularly among teenagers and young adults.

The key to preventing alcohol abuse is to communicate the risks, harm and disapproval of its use among young people.

Recent results from a national survey found that by eighth grade, approximately 27 percent had used alcohol, which increased to 66 percent by 12th grade. Additionally, a second national survey indicated that among high school seniors, about 20 percent binge drank, consuming more than 5 drinks in one occasion, during the two-week period preceding the survey. Heavy drinking is associated with negative social, mental and physical health outcomes -- including risk of violent behavior, sexual assault, accidents that cause injury, additional drug use, poor academics, legal troubles, and family and interpersonal problems. Those most likely to experience harm from heavy drinking are young people, particularly those of college age.

Thus lowering the drinking age would be harmful in two ways. First, young people, those most likely to be harmed from drinking, will have greater access to alcohol. Second, lowering the drinking age may lead to lowered perception of risk. When perception of risk from a particular substance decreases, prevalence rates tend to increase.

If the perception of risk is increased, then drinking quantity and frequency may decrease. For example, my colleagues and I found that compared to Caucasians, African-Americans tend to report later initiation to alcohol, lower rates of use, engage in less heavy drinking and show slower increases in rates of drinking across adolescence and young adulthood. These racial differences may be in part because perception of risk is stronger among African-American parents and peers, and they consider alcohol more harmful than their white counterparts.

Studies have shown that African-Americans are less likely to endorse permissive attitudes about drinking compared to their white peers. African-American college students report less heavy drinking because they anticipate more criticism for drinking heavily by their non-white university peers.

We can learn a lot from these findings about the importance of communicating the risk, harm and disapproval of substance and alcohol use among young people to help decrease its use. By decreasing the drinking age these efforts may be threatened.

DMU Timestamp: November 09, 2018 23:10





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