Archive for February, 2007

Recently released alcohol related numbers

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

The government made available this week new figures from the National Survey on Drug Use for 2004-2005. This survey contains the most recent alcohol use and abuse numbers, that serve as a reminder of drinking practices around the country. Before assessing what the minute shifts may mean, let’s recap some of the pertinent statistics:


For “Minors”:

  • Alcohol use decreased slightly among youths aged 12 to 17 from 17.7 percent in 2003-2004 to 17.1 percent in 2004-2005.
  • In 2005, about 10.8 million persons aged 12 to 20 (28.2 percent of this age group) reported drinking alcohol in the past month. Nearly 7.2 million (18.8 percent) were binge drinkers, and 2.3 million (6.0 percent) were heavy drinkers. These figures have remained essentially the same since the 2002 survey

For Young adults:

· Young adults aged 18 to 22 enrolled full time in college were more likely than their peers not enrolled full time (i.e., part-time college students and persons not currently enrolled in college) to use alcohol in the past month (64.4 v. 53.2), binge drink (44.8 v. 38.3), and drink heavily (19.5 v. 13.).

· The pattern of higher rates of current alcohol use, binge alcohol use, and heavy alcohol use among full-time college students than the rates for others aged 18 to 22 has remained consistent since 2002

For Drunken Driving:

· In 2005, an estimated 13.0 percent of persons aged 12 or older drove under the influence of alcohol at least once in the past year

· This percentage has dropped since 2002, when it was 14.2 percent.

So what does all this, and the rest of the NSDUH data, mean?
First and foremost, binge drinking and heavy drinking slightly increased or did not change. While drinking rates (once in the past month) declined slightly across the board, the more concerning figures (binge drinking and heavy drinking) did not. These figures are an extension of a previous identified movement to the extremes in drinking behavior across the country. This means that increasingly large numbers of people are abstaining from alcohol altogether, just as there is an increase in the rates of heavy drinking. While the effects of this shift (from bell curve to barbell) are less apparent in older age groups where there are significant numbers of moderate drinkers, the same cannot be said for young adults. The polarization of drinking behaviors are quite apparent and appalling on college campuses. This recent blog post on ProgressiveU shows the opinion that most students share regarding college drinking behavior.

A second finding, also pertinent to the previous discussion, is the data suggesting a growing divide in the behaviors of college students relative to their non-college attending peers. While heavy drinking continues to increase amongst college students, the rates in their non-student peers is both lower and steady (See the Graph). Why these differences exist are quite interesting but are not particularly well understood. However, to treat someone as immature, only allows them the justification to act immature. If this holds as an explanation for the differences in consumption behaviors between students and non-student young adults, then it should apply more generally to the differences between America’s infantilized youth under the 21 year-old drinking age relative to the drinking behaviors of young adults across the world.

“World’s Largest Cocktail Party” going underground?

Monday, February 26th, 2007

“‘It’s not shocking enough (to keep students from drinking again), but it’s definitely a different kind of experience,’ Short said,” after the freshman at the University of Georgia spent a night in jail for underage drinking. Recent news out of the University of Georgia show that arrests for underage drinking did not decrease this past year following the communities tougher alcohol policies. While administrators of Georgia’s largest university have sought to curtail their image as a party school—famous for the “world’s largest cocktail party”— their policies of stricter enforcement and tougher penalties have had little effect. The idea behind the administration’s push was that if penalties were harsh enough freshman, sophomores, and juniors at UGA would warm up to the fact that for them alcohol is illegal, and that this would make them stop drinking. It failed. This should come as no surprise. When as few as 2 out of every 1000 underage drinkers are ever punished, even large increases in enforcement cannot provide sufficient deterrence for those illegal behaviors. Administrators of the university ought to reassess their draconian policies, because ultimately they only push behavior farther off campus and deeper underground. And while this “out of sight out of mind” mentality is pleasing to the eye, it can do little to improve the drinking culture on campus. Sadly, when it comes to irresponsible drinking it may only be making things worse.

Editorial Review

Friday, February 23rd, 2007

Competing editorials in the Bennington Banner of Vermont show the complexity of the drinking age question. On one hand is a high school administrator, who in his interactions with high school students experiences the problems and tragedies that occur with underage drinking. His reaction is understandable: strengthen enforcement of the current law. After all, the logic holds, if we want young adults to stop drinking, then cracking down on them hard would seem like way to do it. The following day, the editorial board of the Bennington paper, responded to the op-ed, taking the opposite view.

Ultimately, when those simplistic and repressive controls are finally lifted, there are no internal controls left to take over. . . . As a society, we somehow have to allow teens to drink, if they wish, in supervised, controlled venues — and we have to educate them — before they are allowed into bars and package stores. We can’t just hide the booze away and hope they wait until they are 21. Unfortunately, that’s what we are doing today.

And so we are left with two choices, to maintain the status quo, to accept that this is the best we can do, or to try something different, something new and innovative. On the surface, a 21 year-old drinking ought to help keep alcohol from reaching minors, by the fact that it makes alcohol illegal to consume and difficult to obtain. In certain cases that may very well be the case. But more often than not, those classified by the law as “underage” are obtaining and drinking alcohol. In the end, we are faced with a law that is out of step with our cultural attitudes towards alcohol, which encourages violation and breeds disrespect for law.

In the more than two decades that have passed since its implementation, the 21 year-old drinking age has created a climate in which terms like “binge” and “pregame” have come to describe young peoples’ choices about alcohol. The goal-oriented drinking that is now common under the current law, though dangerous, may more importantly be a consequence of the law itself. In an environment where drinking must be kept hidden from the law, the rituals surrounding alcohol consumption come to reflect those environmental pressures. As those rituals become empowered, they come to define and give weight to the culture of drinking itself. Thus, as drinking to evade the law inherently becomes an act of drinking as quickly as possible, those acts of goal-oriented drinking become part of a unique culture.

It’s not just college students…

Thursday, February 22nd, 2007

Many people think of binge drinking as a “kid’s” problem, as something young people grow out of as they mature, get a job, and start a family. A recent case study of New Mexico, completed using national survey data, indicates that substantial proportion of the adult population drinks excessively. 16.5% of New Mexicans over 18 binge drink regularly, while only 1.8% of that same population can be classified as alcohol dependent. Binge drinking is a national, population-wide public health problem, and by pigeon-holing it as a plague of college campuses we risk over simplifying the problem.

Interestingly, the authors point to lopsided expenditures between treatment for alcoholism and prevention of excessive drinking–nationally, about $4 billion is spent on treatment, while only about $1 billion is spent on prevention efforts. The authors hope that their findings, as well as those nationally, will equalize the monies being spent on treatment and prevention and help send the message that binge drinking among adults is a serious public health concern.

Choose Responsibility News from Left and Right

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

A blog on the national website Campus Progress, a site for student progressives, caught wind of Choose Responsibility’s recent proposal to reconsider the 21 year-old drinking age. Unlike the polemical statements issued by other organizations focused on drinking, the blogger Keith White praises the quality research and professionalism of Choose Responsibility. “Framing all our policy debates on such clear-headedness would be a godsend for American politics. And as a result of this apparent professionalism, this organization can show students how to effectively engage in the political dialogue on a unifying, non-partisan issue.

On the opposite side of the aisle, conservative columnist John McCaslin for the newspaper Washington Times, comments on Choose Responsibility’s proposal in an article titled A License to Drink. Though he offers mostly explanation, his mention of proposal coupled with the editorializations in the progressive blogs suggest that the logic of a lowered drinking resonates across large segments of the population. 3quarksdaily, a blog of considerable following amongst the professorial type, also made reference to Choose Responsibility’s proposal.

In the limelight…

Monday, February 19th, 2007

…for the first time! This article, published last Thursday in the Middlebury College student newspaper, caught national attention. We were picked up by the Associated Press with this article, which made in on the wire and has been distributed to newspapers across the country. We were also profiled by Inside Higher Ed–check out the comments for a lively discussion.

Choose Responsibility is off to a running start