New CDC Report Highlights Binge Drinking Numbers

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control released a new report – “CDC Health Disparities and Inequalities Report — United States, 2011” – which sheds light on disparities between racial groups on a wide variety of health issues. The report touched on binge drinking, and noted that binge drinking is highest in the 18-24 age cohort:

“Binge drinking prevalence decreased with increasing age, from 25.6% among respondents aged 18–24 years to 3.8% among respondents aged ≥65 years…The average largest number of drinks consumed by binge drinkers decreased with increasing age, from 9.1 among adults aged 18–24 years to 5.5 among those aged ≥65 years.”

Donald McNeil offered a summary of the report’s findings for the New York Times:

“Binge drinking — defined as five drinks at a sitting for men and four for women — is increasing. In a switch from the norm for health problems, it is more common among the better-educated and more affluent, including college students. But poor people, and especially American Indians, drink much more heavily when on binges.”

The new report’s findings come from an analysis of the 2009 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. The full CDC report is available here.

75 Responses to “New CDC Report Highlights Binge Drinking Numbers”

  1. John Searles Says:

    4. Do you really want to compare lists of supporters? Let me start with the big one – President Obama is on record (twice) as saying he will not lower the MLDA. He once said this ion front of combat troops.

  2. John Searles Says:

    National Safety Council
    Institute of Medicine
    Who Alcohol and Public Policy Group
    Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
    Governor’s Highway Safety Program
    International Association of Chiefs of Police
    Majority of Americans (check the Gallop and Nationwide polls – 70% of the population favor maintaining MLDA-21

  3. John Searles Says:

    5. The US Military is also a strong backer of MLDA-21. Here is an example: “Citing too many drunken-driving crashes and arrests and too many fights, the new commanding general has raised the drinking age on base from 18 to 21, bringing 17,000-soldier Fort Bliss into line with what has been the law in the rest of Texas since 1986.

    Maj. Gen. Howard B. Bromberg, who took over in January, cracked down after a review of base crime statistics showed that in late 2007 and early 2008, sexual assaults, domestic violence and traffic accidents by soldiers 18, 19 or 20 involved alcohol more often than not.”

    6. Last year, an independent Law Commission in New Zealand that advises the government has recommended an increase in the MLDA back to 20. 75% of the NZ population is in favor of this change. As you are also aware, there is another movement to raise the MLDA to 21.

  4. John Searles Says:

    7. Jim Fell and Ralph Hingson are first rate scientists who have concluded from overwhelming empirical evidence (your few citations notwithstanding) that this is a very important public health issue. They’re being members of MADD is a public service and in no way is a conflict of interest.

    8. I have looked at the Dirscherl non-peer reviewed piece. The idea that the MLDA should be lowered so that 18 to 20 year olds gain experience with driving under the influence is as vacuous and inappropriate as it sounded when first proposed by Asch & Levy in the 1990s. This would be the least likely argument I can think of that would persuade anyone to support lowering the drinking age.

  5. John Searles Says:

    9. Please don’t make the mistake of substituting emotions for science. The story of Ali is indeed tragic and quite sad. However, the connection between the MLDA and her death is only made by her family. I am sorry for their loss – I truly am. John McCardell also liked to raise the Gordy Bailey story and end it with the statement that his parents are now supporters of CR. I know for a fact that they are neither supporters of CR nor advocates for lowering the MLDA. How do I know? – I asked them.

    10. 135 college presidents signed the Amethyst Initiative to have a conversation about the minimum legal drinking age. That means that 4014 (97%) of college presidents did NOT sign on. Here are a couple of notable responses from high profile University presidents:

    “Signing this initiative does serious harm to the education and enforcement efforts on our campuses and ultimately endangers young lives even more.”
    —University of Miami President Donna Shalala

    “I’ve seen no scientific evidence that supports the contention that lowering the legal drinking age would reduce binge-drinking or lessen other alcohol-related problems on our college campuses or in society at large.“
    -University of North Carolina President, Erskine Bowles

    11. Really? Jesus, MLK?? As I have previously indicated this is not a liberty issue, it is a public health issue. Are you upset that it is illegal for anyone under 21 to purchase a handgun? Or to obtain an interstate driver’s license? Does it annoy you that car rental companies discriminate against young drivers?

    I did not say it was a fringe issue. What I said is that it has lost momentum and that CR is no longer a driving force, and the Amethyst Initiative is stagnant.

    (ASFAR? WOW! Talk about fringe groups!)

  6. Ajax the Great Says:


    1) I posted numerous references to peer-reviewed journal articles. When I put too many hyperlinks, it says “awaiting moderation”, so I put a list of the authors and journals in which they were published.

    2) You discussed Males and Miron (both of which are peer-reviewed, btw) but did NOT successfully refute them. In fact, no one has successfully done so, particularly for the Miron article. True, the Agrawal and Sartor do not mention MLDA (neither did the last one you posted, nor your 1988 article, btw), but they DO pull the rug out from under your argument nonetheless. And a monkey study beats rodent studies (heavily relied on by the pro-21 crowd) any day.

    3) We’ll see about that.

    4) So what? What is popular is not always right; what is right is not always popular.

    5) Not every military leader feels the same way. And what about alcohol-related problems in the military among those over 21 (there are plenty)? Should all bases go completely bone-dry as a result of that?

    6) Guess what? We’re not New Zealand. And if MLDA is so wonderful, why do only a handful of countries have it (or are seriously trying to implement it) after all these decades? We’re the only “developed” country to have it, by the way.

    7) So? Dr. Jeffrey Miron is a brilliant Harvard economist who has dedicated his career to advance the cause of liberty. Dr. Mike Males is a first-rate sociologist who was once a member of MADD but quit due to the organization’s hypocrisy and anti-youth stance. He is one of the few Baby Boomers with the courage to confront the failings of his own generation, especially in his home state of California. And most of the other researchers I cited are renowned experts as well.

    8) There is nothing “vacuous” about the theory, which is acutally about gaining experience with drinking itself, not driving under the influence. Even Dee and Evans agree with it.

    9 and 10) Let’s not cherry-pick now. And the pro-21 crowd has a long history of substituting emotions for science (demagoguery)–that’s primarily what swayed President Reagan to go against his states-rights stance and sign the 1984 bill.

    11) Not a liberty issue you say? Perhaps if Prohibition was reinstated (with teeth) and YOUR right to drink was taken away, you would be singing a very different tune. “Public health” has too often become a euphemism for “legislating morality” and disregarding civil liberties.

    By the way, I think 18-20 year olds should have all the same rights as 21 year olds currently enjoy. And yes, that includes handguns as well. Did you know that in Vermont you can (according to state law) carry a concealed handgun at 16? And they have the second lowest violent crime rate in the nation, go figure. Interstate commercial driver’s licenses (a privilege, not a right) are not something automatically given to the general population over 21, so that’s a canard. Ditto for the age for being President of the United States (35) or Congress (25), which I think should be lowered as well to 25 for President and 18 for Congress. In Britain and Australia, you can be Prime Minister at 18. And in New York, car rental companies cannot deny drivers over 18, but can charge a surcharge for those over 25. And while it does annoy me (even now that I am over 25), under current law that is up to individual rental companies to decide, not the state (contrary to the drinking age). Again, that’s a canard–under a drinking age of 18, bars could choose to set the limit higher, as many do in Puerto Rico, Sweden, and a few other countries with a legal drinking age of 18.

    I have yet to see a cogent argument for MLDA 21 that 1) cannot also be used to justify alcohol prohibition for all ages, 2) cannot be used to ban anything that has any potential for harm, 3) cannot be used to justify raising the age limit for everything to 21. Otherwise, it falls flat.

  7. Ajax the Great Says:

    (the smiley face should read “8” by the way)

  8. Anthony Rhodes Says:

    Jesus of Nazareth most likely would not advocate screwing people over for a quick buck. The Jesus I read about, anywasy.

  9. Anthony Rhodes Says:

    Anyway. Sorry about the misspelling

  10. Ajax the Great Says:

    And let’s not forget how he turned water into wine (NOT unfermented grape juice, but actual WINE) and at least passively allowed people under 21 to drink it. Today in many states he would be in jail for “furnishing to minors” merely for hosting such a gathering! In PA, for example, for he would have gotten a fine of $2500 per “minor”–40 minors (conservative estimate)= $100,000, plus a year in prison (total)–even if everyone was 18 and over. And being a poor man he would be unable to pay the fine–hence even more jail time.

    In fact, many ignorant rednecks who claim to be Christian today would not recognize the real Jesus Christ, and would probably want to hang him from the highest tree for “corrupting youth” or some other bogus excuse. Woody Guthrie was right–if Jesus was around today, they would still most likely have laid him in his grave unfortunately.


  11. John Searles Says:


    I’m only going to say this one more time. I refernced my 1988 article not in support of MLDA-21 but as a model of how to address an issue from a minority position. I was trying to be helpful. If you want to play with the big dogs you’ve got to get some scientific credibility.

    Re: point 3. No way No How. Do you really believe anyone would pay the penalty (in VT it’s $18 million) for 18 year olds can drink? Our very liberal governor refuses to raise taxes on the top 1% of earners in VT to help a $170 million budget shortfall!

    Re: point 4. Agreed, however, my point was that there is very little popular support for lowering the drinking age and what do you think politicians (mostly) respond to? Furthermore, there is overwhelming scientific support for maintaining MLDA-21 despite the occassional Miron or Males

    I do not believe that 16 year olds can carry a concealed handgun. You are gong to have to show me that law. I do know that your handgun/low crime rate in Vermont is quite spurious and I think you know that. Contrary to the picture you paint, we do not walk the streets with weapons to protect ourselves from the odd assault. Personally, I don’t even lock my car doors here. Perhaps the fact that the National crime rate has declined since MLDA-21 went into effect should also be mentioned.

    Jesus is irrelevant to this issue, as he is to almost all policy issues.

  12. Ajax the Great Says:


    Re 3: A mere 18 million (about 10% of the current deficit) can easily be made up by raising the alcohol and/or gas taxes. Puerto Rico made up for their loss with toll booths. If they raise the gas tax, they can also include a partial prebate for those over 21 to make it “fair”.

    Re 4: At one time or another, there was also apparently “overwhelming” (psueudo) scientific support for racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, phrenology, eugenics, Marxism, Freudian psychoanalysis, geocentrism, and even flat-earthers. But then reality (mostly) prevailed.

    As for Vermont, here’s the staute:

    It is a de facto age of 18 due to a federal law passed in 1994, but my point still stands.


  13. Ajax the Great Says:

    As for Vermont’s crime rate, take a look at this link:

    As you can see, it has remained very low relative to the rest of the nation regardless of whether the drinking age was 18 (1971-1986) or 21 (1960-1971 or 1987-present). They were one of the first states to adopt concealed carry in the early 1970s (or perhaps earlier). Violent crime peaked in VT in 1979, fully seven years before raising the drinking age under federal duress. And the national violent crime rate actually rose from 1983 to 1993 before plummeting, and more so in the US (who raised the drinking age to 21) than in Canada (who did not).


  14. Ajax the Great Says:

    Oh, and regardless of one’s stance on religion, Jesus IS relevant if the policy in question (the 21 drinking age that you support) would have had Him personally put on the wrong side of the law, as I had mentioned before. Another example would be NYC’s Giuliani-era law that criminalized not only panhandling itself, but also those who give to panhandlers.

  15. John Searles Says:


    Have you asked yourself why your ideas about raising the lost 10% of highway funds has never arisen since MLDA-21 went into effect? Because there is no political will for this. Raising gasoline and alcohol taxes? You have got to be kidding me! Don’t run for office on THAT platform because you will not have a chance.

    You have got to stop reading my sarcasm so literally. I was ceretainly NOT suggesting that crime has anything to do with MLDA-21, nor has it anything to do with the gun laws of particular states. I was pointing out the spuriousnerss of the arguement.

    An interesting tactic – not admit you were wrong about 16 year olds being able carry concealed weapos, but then claim you were actually on point.

    I don’t even need to respond to the silly comments about past “science” except to say psychoanalytic theory is making a big comeback (much to my dismay). See

    You can have jesus – I’ll take Christopher Hitchens:
    “What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof”

  16. Anthony Rhodes Says:

    You can have Christopher Hitchens- I’ll take H.L. Mencken: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed
    — and hence clamorous to be led to safety —
    by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”–

  17. Ajax the Great Says:

    Good one, Anthony! Forgot about Mencken.


    1) It worked for Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, and (until very recently) Guam. (Though I think Guam may become the next Fiji due to their dependence on tourism, and lower it back to 18 within a few years like Fiji did). And the sky did not fall. As for raising politically difficult taxes, does the following 1988 quote sound familiar? “Read my lips: No new taxes”. And guess what the man who uttered those words eventually did, for both alcohol and gasoline among other things? That’s right.

    2) An interesting tactic indeed–your tactic of shifting the focus away from the MLDA issue to concealed-carry laws. And it is good that you were just being sarcastic, you really had me for a minute there. As for spurious arguments, I am well aware that correlation does not equal causation. That is the crux of what I have been saying all along about the pro-21 studies that I repeatedly refute on both this thread and my blog.

    By the way, I WAS right about the state law that still says 16, I just did not mention the 1994 federal law that makes it 18. Either way, it’s legal for 18-20 year olds to carry a concealed handgun in VT, they just have to get someone else to buy the gun for them. I only even brought it up to refute your rather hollow argument about other exceptions to the age of majority justifying a 21 drinking age despite 18 year olds being allowed to go to war, vote, be executed, get married, have kids, etc.

    3) You still did not refute my other, earlier points, by the way.

  18. John Searles Says:

    I’m still trying to get over your citing a study on macaques in support of lowering the drinking age. OK – I’ll support lowering the drinking age for macaques as long as they are not carrying concealed weapons.

    To paraphrase John McCardell “It is not 1988 anymore.” As I said, run for office, see how far the idea or raising gas and alcohol taxes gets you. If you think you can get these taxes passed I would like to have some of the stuff you have been smoking. Did you know that McCardell approached the Middlebury Trustees with the idea of making up the difference if VT lowered the MLDA. It didn’t get very far.

    No comment on the President being against lowering the drinking age even though he garnered the majority of the 18-20 vote?

  19. Anthony Rhodes Says:

    Cohibas,H Upmanns,Playboys, and Romeo y Julieta. That’s what I smoke.

    As for the President, if he wants to alienate the age group that played a huge roll in getting him to office, let him. Let him call the 18-20 year olds of America stupid, ignorant, small-brained, inferior, sub-human, and all different kinds of garbage. Of course, this would put him at risk of some kind of political backlash. If he doesn’t, he has to be the luckiest man in the world.

  20. Ajax the Great Says:


    The monkey study was an attempt to test “biological plausibility”, one of the crucial Bradford-Hills criteria of causation. And it failed. But what you said was rather funny nonetheless.

    Again, we’ll see about what happens as far as the drinking age goes. Alaska would be a good “guinea pig” as far as federal funding. They could counter that threat by threatening to choke off 10% the oil supply to the lower 48 states in retaliation. Even so, there is a way to lower the de facto drinking age without losing federal funding–what I like to call the Louisiana Loophole.

    According to the federal law, only “purchase” and “public possession” have to be illegal for those under 21, and those terms are strictly defined. And no penalties or enforcement are required. For example, a state would still be in technical compliance if they allowed 18-20 year olds to drink (and be furnished alcohol) in private settings, allowed them to enter bars/clubs, and had no or negligible penalties (with no enforcement) for purchase and public possession by 18-20 year olds. An even bigger loophole that Louisiana exploited until 1995 was that they could allow sellers to sell alcohol to 18-20 year olds despite it being technically illegal for 18-20 year olds to purchase. From 1987-1995, it was only 21 on paper. Louisiana voluntarily closed that loophole at the state level despite no loss of funding. In 1996, the Louisiana Supreme Court struck down the entire 21 drinking age before new justices reversed their decision three months later after Clinton threatened their funding (now they were out of compliance). But they did fine as far as funding went when they merely exploited the loophole as opposed to striking down the entire law. And there is no legal reason why any state can’t do this today.

    As for Obama, I think Anthony said it best. And while I voted for him in 2008, I did so pragmatically since I never really thought of him as the ideal candidate, but far better than that angry warmonger McCain.

    Oh yeah, I still have yet to see a cogent argument for MLDA 21 that 1) cannot also be used to justify alcohol prohibition for all ages, 2) cannot be used to ban anything that has any potential for harm, 3) cannot be used to justify raising the age limit for everything to 21. Otherwise, Anthony and I will declare victory in this debate. Good luck.

  21. John Searles Says:

    OK, let me rephrase that: “It’s not 1996 anymore.” If you and Anthony “declare victory” will that get the MLDA lowered?

  22. Ajax the Great Says:


    I guess you do like monkey studies when they appear to agree with your views. However, there are several caveats to the study you cited. The age of the monkeys was 4-5 years, though very crudely equivalent to 16-20 in human years, no doubt includes several who were under 18 in human years at the onset of the study. Blood alcohol levels used to simulate (very frequent) binges were very high indeed–up to 0.30, which is truly extreme drinking–not the mere 0.08 in the NIAAA definition of a “binge”. The fairly short time period says nothing about the reversibility of the observed deficits. Sample sizes were in the single digits. And there was no adult-onset comparison group to test whether there was a difference between adolescents and adults in terms of the observed effects.

    Interestingly, the control group (which saw no neurodegeneration by the way despite both group being anesthetized with the ketamine aka “Special K,” which is neurotoxic) went through the same “induction” period (which involved lower levels of alcohol that partly surpassed the NIAAA binge definition nonetheless) as the treatment group. Thus, the study only shows that truly heavy drinking (as opposed to less extreme drinking) is hazardous to the developing brain. At those levels, acute hazards are probably a bigger concern. And by the way, the brain does not stop developing at 21–it continues to develop throughout much of adulthood as well, and the development that occurs from 16-20 is on the same spectrum as the development that occurs later on in life.

    As for declaring victory, you have still not provided the argument I requested, at least not a sound one. Thus we hereby declare victory. And while that in itself will not get the MLDA lowered, it’s a start. It was fun debating with you though, and you have been a good sport. Good luck in your future debates.


  23. John Searles Says:

    Thanks, but I, too have decided to declare victory in the name of science. As a collary and consequence of this declaration, MLDA-21 shall stand (except for macaques).

  24. Ajax the Great Says:

    And it looks like we will have to agree to disagree.

  25. Anthony Rhodes Says:

    John, in the end, the decisive factor in this debate will be the one who can yell the loudest. As it always has been.