One key to the trend may lie in alcohol's effects on the young brain.
"We suspected that adolescence is a unique period in terms of the brain's response to alcohol and the vulnerability for addiction," Grucza explained. "And, in fact, what we have here is a natural experiment that supports that idea, by demonstrating an unintended but positive consequence that comes from having raised the drinking age."
Dr. James Garbutt, a professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, called the study "intriguing."
"We've known for some time that changes in the drinking age, initially brought about by efforts to limit drunk driving, has been one of the biggest public health successes in our lifetime," he noted. "But there's been this thought about reducing the drinking age again, because some say, 'College kids are drinking anyways, so why don't we make it legal?'"
"But this is an important finding that shows the evident value of maintaining the 21 drinking age," Garbutt added. "And it is a clear argument that doing so is probably good for public health on multiple levels."
There's more on the minimum drinking age at the American Medical Asociation.
SOURCES: Richard Grucza, Ph. D., assistant professor, psychiatry, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri; James Garbutt, M.D., professor, psychiatry, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina; February, 2012, Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research
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