TUESDAY, Nov. 15 (HealthDay News) -- Entering adulthood in a place and time where the legal drinking age is 18, not 21, seems to put women, but not men, at a long-term higher risk for homicide and suicide, a new study finds.
"We want to make sure people know all of the consequences of the [legal] drinking age," said study lead author Richard Grucza, an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. "Because while the rationale for raising the age was to keep young people from drinking and driving, there wasn't a lot of thought about the long-term habit-formations that may be occurring when young people drink."
Grucza and his colleagues discuss their findings in the February issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
In the study, the researchers tracked the histories of Americans who came of age prior to the full implementation of a 1984 federal law establishing 21 as the national drinking age -- in other words, people who turned 18 sometime between 1967 and 1989. This was a period when the legal age for drinking still varied widely between states.
The authors noted that in the 1960s and 1970s, many states had lowered the minimum drinking age to 18, to reflect parity with eligibility for both the military draft and voting.
However, a subsequent rise in drunk-driving deaths drove many states to revert back to a drinking age of 21 -- a move later made universal by passage of the 1984 federal law.
In prior short-term analyses, Grucza's team had found that both men and women raised in under-21 states engaged in higher rates of alcohol and drug use as adults, and had a higher rate of drunk-driving accidents, homicides and suicides.
In the new study, the authors set out to gauge the longer-term impact of drinking age laws on homicide and suicide, examining data
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