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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Teen Drinking

Last week the CDA police department released a statement informing the public they would begin cracking down on “house parties” and underage drinking. I was disappointed by the lack of facts used in the on-line discussion. Because I have a university-bound, underage son, and three high school age children and I drive on our roads from time to time, I definitely have a dog in this fight.
I want to provide some perspective with solid research that was neither commissioned by MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) nor by the Alcohol Producers of the World. This means quality, peer reviewed literature, preferably that has been replicated by another set of researchers. Because underage drinking and the ills it spawns are so rampant, finding such research was easy.
Because I don’t want to scare every responsible parent under their beds, not coming out until their children are 34; let’s just focus on kids 18-20. As an aside, if you don’t have a rank in front of your name, such as Private, Sergeant, or Lieutenant and you are under 25, then you are still a kid to most of us over 40. If we aren’t offended when you think we are old, you shouldn’t be offended when we think of you as kids.
According to the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) 2001-2002 study, 68.4% of young men and 59.7% of young women drank within the past year of the study and 46.8% and 34.5% respectively exceeded the daily drinking limit of more than four drinks in a single day. Kids 18-20 were intoxicated an average of 20.0 days within the year and the average age of drinking onset was 16.7 years of age. Of the kids who drank heavily in the year, 66% drove under the influence and 42% often drove or rode without a seat belt.
Other risky behaviors include engaging in unprotected sex, which according to a study from 2005, increases the STD and AIDS infection rates dramatically. Three studies from Harvard University, found that college age women, who drank heavily in high school were four times more likely to experience sexual assault while in college. Age is further a factor when you consider that if you are under 21, you increase your risk factor for sexual assault by nearly 50%.
A study in the Journal of Human Resources from 2001, shows a direct relationship between a state’s legal drinking age and teen childbearing rates. In what should be a surprise to no one, there is a causal relationship between increased availability of alcohol and teenage pregnancy. Teens who drink heavily are 63 % more likely to be teen mothers. We all know the financial and societal consequences of teen pregnancy.
No matter how you wish to slice it, the data says lowering the drinking age from 21 is a bad idea and worse public policy. In fact, if we as a society would like to instantly lower alcoholism rates, teenage pregnancy rates, STD transmission rates, DUI rates, and dating violence of all kinds, we would raise the drinking age to 25 and stiffen penalties for providing alcohol to those not old enough to purchase it.
I can hear the clamor and gnashing of teeth already from those under 25; and one of the central arguments is the “if I can go fight for my country why can’t I drink?” If you haven’t been drafted or aren’t currently serving, your argument is moot. If you are currently serving, DOD’s policy says you cannot legally drink on a DOD installation under 21. The services regulate almost every aspect of your life to the needs of the service; this is no different.
I hope you will give some thought to the facts of this topic and then give support to local law enforcement to give voice that we care more for all our kids than we do some misguided and antiquated “Right of Passage.”

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