Menus Subscribe Search
(PHOTO: DUSAN ZIDAR/SHUTTERSTOCK)

(PHOTO: DUSAN ZIDAR/SHUTTERSTOCK)

The Government Can Be a Strict, and Expensive, Bartender

• February 13, 2013 • 1:41 PM

(PHOTO: DUSAN ZIDAR/SHUTTERSTOCK)

Government policy plays a considerable role in limiting our potential raucous, drunken behavior. The tendency to hit the bottle hard, researchers suggest, is affected by an area’s drinking age as well as how cheap local alcohol can be.

While states with lower minimum drinking ages were not likely to see residents drink more frequently or consume more alcohol overall, a new study available online in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research finds, they did binge drink more often. (Binge drinking is defined as five or more drinks consumed in one sitting for a man and four or more drinks for a woman.)

Researchers tracked the drinking patterns of more than 39,000 participants, many of whom began to partake in the 1970s—when the legal drinking age in some states was as low as 18. Age and education were also compared to alcohol consumption. College students, as a group, have a tumultuous and well-documented history of imbibing with reckless abandon, which lead author Andrew Plunk at Washington University, St. Louis admits is a significant problem.

“It’s also important not to completely forget about young people who aren’t on college campuses,” he added. “In our study, they had the greatest risk of suffering the long-term consequences linked to lower drinking ages.”

The study  found that even decades after they first started drinking, men who did not attend college and lived in states with an under-21 alcohol policy were 31 percent more likely to binge drink more than once a month compared to college-going equivalents.

“It wasn’t just that lower minimum drinking ages had a negative impact on people when they were young,” according to Plunk. “Even decades later, the ability to legally purchase alcohol before age 21 was associated with more frequent binge drinking.”

Policy influencing alcohol intake is not limited to setting age limits; increasing the price of booze is also an effective deterrent. A recent study featured in Addiction revealed that in British Columbia between 2002 and 2009, a 10 percent increase in the minimum price for all alcoholic beverages was associated with significant drop—by nearly a third—in deaths caused by alcohol. The rise in minimum drink price has corresponded with a 32 percent decrease in deaths wholly attributable to alcohol, with similar reductions for acute and chronic alcohol deaths between the two and three years after the raise.

“This study adds to the scientific evidence that, despite popular opinion to the contrary, even the heaviest drinkers reduce their consumption when minimum alcohol prices increase,” concluded Tim Stockwell, lead author and director of the University of Victoria’s Centre for Addictions Research in British Columbia,  “It is hard otherwise to explain the significant changes in alcohol-related deaths observed in British Columbia.”

Olivia Cvitanic
Olivia Cvitanic is an editorial intern with Pacific Standard through the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Carsey-Wolf Media Internship Program. She is currently a fourth-year student at UCSB pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Global and International Studies and a minor in Professional Editing.

More From Olivia Cvitanic

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

September 19 • 4:00 PM

In Your Own Words: What It’s Like to Get Sued Over Past Debts

Some describe their surprise when they were sued after falling behind on medical and credit card bills.



September 19 • 1:26 PM

For Charitable Products, Sex Doesn’t Sell

Sexy women may turn heads, but for pro-social and charitable products, they won’t change minds.


September 19 • 12:00 PM

Carbon Taxes Really Do Work

A new study shows that taxing carbon dioxide emissions could actually work to reduce greenhouse gases without any negative effects on employment and revenues.


September 19 • 10:00 AM

Why the Poor Remain Poor

A follow-up to “How Being Poor Makes You Poor.”


September 19 • 9:03 AM

Why Science Won’t Defeat Ebola

While science will certainly help, winning the battle against Ebola is a social challenge.


September 19 • 8:00 AM

Burrito Treason in the Lone Star State

Did Meatless Mondays bring down Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples?


September 19 • 7:31 AM

Savor Good Times, Get Through the Bad Ones—With Categories

Ticking off a category of things to do can feel like progress or a fun time coming to an end.


September 19 • 6:00 AM

The Most Untouchable Man in Sports

How the head of the governing body for the world’s most popular sport freely wields his wildly incompetent power.


September 19 • 4:00 AM

The Danger of Dining With an Overweight Companion

There’s a good chance you’ll eat more unhealthy food.



September 18 • 4:00 PM

Racial Disparity in Imprisonment Inspires White People to Be Even More Tough on Crime

White Americans are more comfortable with punitive and harsh policing and sentencing when they imagine that the people being policed and put in prison are black.



September 18 • 2:00 PM

The Wages of Millions Are Being Seized to Pay Past Debts

A new study provides the first-ever tally of how many employees lose up to a quarter of their paychecks over debts like unpaid credit card or medical bills and student loans.


September 18 • 12:00 PM

When Counterfeit and Contaminated Drugs Are Deadly

The cost and the crackdown, worldwide.


September 18 • 10:00 AM

How Do You Make a Living, Molly Crabapple?

Noah Davis talks to Molly Crapabble about Michelangelo, the Medicis, and the tension between making art and making money.


September 18 • 9:00 AM

Um, Why Are These Professors Creeping on My Facebook Page?

The ethics of student-teacher “intimacy”—on campus and on social media.


September 18 • 8:00 AM

Welcome to the Economy Economy

With the recent introduction of Apple Pay, the Silicon Valley giant is promising to remake how we interact with money. Could iCoin be next?



September 18 • 6:09 AM

How to Build a Better Election

Elimination-style voting is harder to fiddle with than majority rule.


September 18 • 6:00 AM

Homeless on Purpose

The latest entry in a series of interviews about subculture in America.


September 18 • 4:00 AM

Why Original Artworks Move Us More Than Reproductions

Researchers present evidence that hand-created artworks convey an almost magical sense of the artist’s essence.


September 17 • 4:00 PM

Why Gun Control Groups Have Moved Away From an Assault Weapons Ban

A decade after the ban expired, gun control groups say that focusing on other policies will save more American lives.


September 17 • 2:00 PM

Can You Make Two People Like Each Other Just By Telling Them That They Should?

OKCupid manipulates user data in an attempt to find out.


September 17 • 12:00 PM

Understanding ISIL Messaging Through Behavioral Science

By generating propaganda that taps into individuals’ emotional and cognitive states, ISIL is better able motivate people to join their jihad.


Follow us


For Charitable Products, Sex Doesn’t Sell

Sexy women may turn heads, but for pro-social and charitable products, they won't change minds.

Carbon Taxes Really Do Work

A new study shows that taxing carbon dioxide emissions could actually work to reduce greenhouse gases without any negative effects on employment and revenues.

Savor Good Times, Get Through the Bad Ones—With Categories

Ticking off a category of things to do can feel like progress or a fun time coming to an end.

How to Build a Better Election

Elimination-style voting is harder to fiddle with than majority rule.

Do Conspiracy Theorists Feed on Unsuspecting Internet Trolls?

Not literally, but debunkers and satirists do fuel conspiracy theorists' appetites.

The Big One

One in three drivers in Brooklyn's Park Slope—at certain times of day—is just looking for parking. The same goes for drivers in Manhattan's SoHo. September/October 2014 new-big-one-3

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.