The findings suggest, Norberg said, that the frequency or intensity of drinking in late adolescence has long-term effects.
A study released earlier this year reported that states that allow the suspension of a driver's license for any underage alcohol violation and states with zero-tolerance laws that make it illegal for young people to drive with any level of alcohol in their system have fewer drunk-driving accidents.
So-called use-and-lose laws resulted in 5 percent fewer auto accidents related to drinking, the study found. It, too, was published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.
Norberg's study is believed to be the first to look at the very long-term effects of lowered drinking ages.
The study "substantiates something that has not been substantiated this way before -- that the [legal] drinking age really has long-term impact," said Dr. Marc Galanter, director of the division of alcoholism and drug abuse at New York University School of Medicine. "Even in [people's] 40s and 50s, this impact was felt."
Though people nationwide continue to debate what the ideal legal drinking age should be, with some again calling for a lower age, Galanter said the results suggest that keeping the status quo would be good.
Traci Toomey, an associate professor of public health at the University of Minnesota, who also has researched the topic, agreed. The new study, she said, provides "another piece of the puzzle that looks at the policy from another angle."
Norberg, however, said that though her research poses a "strong argument" for keeping the drinking age at 21, "there might be some other solution," such as the drinking "learner's permits" that some have proposed.
That concept aims to change the youth culture from acceptance of excessive drinking to preference for limited alcohol consumption. One way to do this, proponents say, coul
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