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Strict Underage Drinking Laws May Deter Delinquency in Teens

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 29 (HealthDay News) -- Strict enforcement of underage drinking laws reduces the odds that teenagers will commit alcohol-related crimes as adults, a new study suggests.

State lawmakers have relied heavily on the enforcement of these zero-tolerance laws -- known as possession of alcohol under the legal age laws -- to control minors' access to alcohol, researchers found.

They compiled information on young people aged 15 to 24 from the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports from 1975 to 2006. Those who were governed by zero-tolerance underage drinking laws were arrested less often for vandalism and assault than those who were not subjected to strict enforcement.

"These findings have important potential implications for public policy," study authors Chris Barnum, Nick Richardson and Robert Perfetti said in a news release. "If tough enforcement of underage drinking by 15- to 20-year-olds has an enduring impact on behavior, then law enforcement's efforts in imposing underage possession laws may be instrumental in reducing both adolescent and subsequent adult drinking and intoxication."

The study, which appeared Feb. 23 in the journal SAGE Open, suggested that the public arrest of those who are underage for possession of alcohol serves as a deterrent for other teens.

"Young people who are caught and punished for underage possession are less likely to drink in the future than others, and the example of their punishment also serves as a disincentive for their peers," the researchers concluded.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism provides state profiles of underage drinking laws.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: SAGE Publications, news release, Feb. 23, 2012

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