Alcohol Policies Aimed at Adults Also Protect Teens
In the U.S., individual states can initiate a broad range of policies that affect the circumstances in which legal consumption of alcohol occurs. In a study published in June 2015 in the American Academy of Pediatrics’ journal Pediatrics, researchers from four U.S. institutions assessed the impact that state-level alcohol policies aimed at adults have on the drinking behaviors of teenagers. These researchers concluded that state-level policies aimed at adults can have a substantial influence on the likelihood that teenagers will consume alcohol in any amount or participate in the particularly dangerous practice known as binge drinking.
Alcohol policies are the rules that govern the sale and consumption of alcohol, as well as a range of related issues, including the consequences for violating alcohol-related laws. Such policies are formed at the federal level, as well as at the state level. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism notes 35 specific policy areas commonly under state jurisdiction. These areas include such things as the taxes levied for the sale of various forms of alcohol, the minimum age of people who serve or sell alcohol, the hours during which alcohol can be sold or purchased, the types of establishments that can sell alcohol at wholesale prices, the types of establishments that can sell alcohol at retail prices, the penalties for operating a vehicle while legally intoxicated, the consequences of committing other types of crimes while under the influence of alcohol, the availability of vehicle insurance for people convicted of driving while intoxicated and the legality of health insurance increases for people with serious alcohol problems.
The combination of alcohol policies in place can vary broadly among individual states. Researchers can use a tool called the Alcohol Policy Scale to determine the overall strength of the policies enforced in any given state-level jurisdiction. This tool can also help researchers determine the impact that a state’s alcohol policies have on the alcohol-related behaviors of its residents.
Teenagers and Binge Drinking
Recent nationwide survey results from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration indicate that over one-quarter of the nation’s 18- and 19-year-olds (commonly viewed as adults) qualify as binge drinkers in any given month by consuming enough alcohol to reach legal intoxication in two hours or less. Among 16- and 17-year-olds, the monthly binge-drinking rate is roughly 13 percent. Fourteen- and 15-year-olds have a monthly binge-drinking rate of 4.5 percent, while 13-year-olds rarely qualify as monthly alcohol bingers. Teenagers who binge drink even once may encounter a range of seriously damaging short-term outcomes, including life-threatening accidents, sexual assaults and physical assaults. Teens who frequently binge on alcohol also substantially increase their chances of eventually developing diagnosable alcohol abuse or alcoholism, in addition to increasing their chances of altering their normal growth and development and triggering a number of other long-term problems.
Impact on Binge-Drinking Rates
In the study published in Pediatrics, researchers from Boston University, Boston Medical Center, the University of Minnesota and Boston Children’s Hospital used data from the Alcohol Policy Scale and a nationwide project called the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) to help determine if statewide alcohol policies geared toward adults have a meaningful impact on teen alcohol consumption in general and teen binge drinking in particular. The YRBS information was gathered from a nationally representative group of teenagers enrolled in ninth, 10th, 11th or 12th grade between the years 1999 and 2011.
The researchers concluded that every 10 percent increase in the toughness of state-level alcohol policies results in a roughly 8 percent decline in the chances that a teenager will consume alcohol in any amount. They also concluded that every 10 percent increase in the toughness of such policies results in a roughly 7 percent decline in the chances that a teenager will binge on alcohol. These findings held true when the researchers specifically excluded alcohol policies geared toward underage drinking and focused solely on adult-oriented policies.
The study’s authors note that the statewide level of per-person alcohol consumption has a considerable effect on the extent to which adult-oriented alcohol policies influence teen alcohol consumption and teen binge drinking. They believe their findings indicate that policies aimed at reducing adolescent alcohol use and alcohol binging must have a strong adult component.