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Lower Drinking Age Linked to Later-Life Problems
Date:9/18/2009

Study finds more alcohol, drug abuse among those who could drink before 21

FRIDAY, Sept. 18 (HealthDay News) -- People who grew up in a place and time when they could legally buy alcohol before age 21 are more likely than others to be alcoholics or have a drug problem, even well into adulthood, new research shows.

"The effect lingers," said study author Dr. Karen Norberg, a research instructor in psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis. "A drinking-age law of 21 is associated with lower risks of long-term problems with alcohol use."

The study is published online Sept. 18 in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

Norberg and her research colleagues analyzed surveys of nearly 34,000 people born in the United States between 1948 and 1970, examining their records to determine if rates of alcoholism and drug abuse differed depending on their states' liquor-buying laws at the time the participants were teens or young adults.

In the early 1970s, 26 states lowered the drinking age to 18 after the federal voting age was lowered to 18, Norberg said. After passage in 1984 of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, the federal government pressured states to increase the drinking age or forfeit highway funds.

By the late 1980s, most states had complied, raising the drinking age back to 21. Louisiana, the researchers noted, was the last to do so, in 1995.

In the study, people who had been allowed to buy liquor legally before age 21 were 33 percent more likely to have suffered from alcoholism in the year before they were surveyed.

Drinking at a younger age also was found to increase the risk of abusing other drugs. Those allowed to drink legally before age 21 were 70 percent more likely to have had a problem with drugs than were those who had to wait until 21 to drink legally, the study found.

No differences were detected between men and women,
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