Good news and bad news about young people and binge drinking: in the United States, anyway, reckless drinking is down over all, but not among college students. Among 18- to 20-year-old men who did not attend college, binge drinking declined more than 30 per cent between 1979 and 2006. But among male students it remained at a steady and significant level, while among female students — and this is the really bad news — it went up.
Researchers writing in The Journal of the American Academy of Adolescent Psychiatry linked the positive trend to the increase in the drinking age since the 1980s. In 1984 the federal government decided to withhold highway money from any state that did not have a minimum drinking age of 21, and over time all states fell into line.
The new research findings, based on information from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in which binge drinking is defined as having five or more drinks in a session, give the lie to the position taken by a number of college officials who say the higher drinking age has forced drinking underground and encouraged alcohol abuse.
In an editorial The New York Times ticks the college presidents off, saying the study shows they should be reviewing their own policies and finding out just why students drink so much. Says the Times:
Just why the college crowd continues to drink so heavily is not clear. Students are less likely to live with parents or spouses who can ride herd on their drinking. Most have older friends who can legally buy alcohol. Fraternities and sororities may also foster irresponsible drinking. Whatever the causes, the solutions almost certainly lie mostly within the colleges — perhaps with better counseling or stronger bans on under-age drinking — not by lowering the legal drinking age.
The study found that almost half the college men surveyed and almost 40 per cent of the women had reported engaging in binge drinking. We agree with the Times that the college administrators need to stir themselves and actively discourage alcohol abuse. They may have the brightest kids in their colleges but those young people are still growing up — as the brain researchers keep telling us — until their mid-20s.
PS Did it all start with The Student Prince?