Research – Underage Drinking Policies

  Youth Drinking in the United States: Relationships With Alcohol Policies and Adult Drinking
Pediatrics. Published online June 1, 2015 (doi: 10.1542/peds.2015-0537).
This study examined whether stronger alcohol policy environments were inversely associated with youth drinking, and if this relationship was partly explained by adult drinking. Researchers assigned Alcohol Policy Scale (APS) scores that characterized the strength of the state-level alcohol policy environments assessed with repeated cross-sectional Youth Risk Behavior Survey data of representative samples of high school students in grades 9 to 12, from biennial years between 1999 and 2011; and found that stronger alcohol policies, including those that do not target youth specifically, are related to a reduced likelihood of youth alcohol consumption. These findings suggest that efforts to reduce youth drinking should incorporate population-based policies to reduce excessive drinking among adults as part of a comprehensive approach to preventing alcohol-related harms. Future research should examine influence of alcohol policy subgroups and discrete policies.

Underage drinking: does the minimum age drinking law offer enough protection?
Int J Adolesc Med Health. 2015;27(2):117-28. doi: 10.1515/ijamh-2015-5002.


Underage drinking is a significant problem in the US. It is responsible for several thousand mortalities and fatalities each year, both among minors and other members of society. Additionally, underage alcohol consumption produces a severe economic burden in the US. Introduction to alcohol in youth poses serious long-term risks for adolescents, including occupational, educational, and psychosocial impairments, and increases the risk for developing alcohol abuse disorders in adulthood. In order to address and mitigate this problem, the US has set a minimum age drinking law of 21 in all 50 states, and has implemented several supplementary laws limiting the possession and consumption of alcohol. Though these laws have successfully reduced underage drinking, several additional strategies are noteworthy, including preventative and intervention efforts incorporating environmental, individual, communal, and parental factors. This literature review describes these concepts as they relate to underage drinking laws in the US. Directions for future research, interventions, and ongoing challenges related to the minimum drinking age in the US are also discussed.

Effects of a 2009 Illinois Alcohol Tax Increase on Fatal Motor Vehicle Crashes
American Journal of Public Health (March 19, 2015). E-View Ahead of Print. Doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2014.302428; Accepted on: Oct 24, 2014.
Researchers examined the effects of a 2009 increase in alcohol taxes in Illinois on alcohol-related fatal motor vehicle crashes and found that increases in alcohol excise taxes, such as the 2009 Illinois act, could save thousands of lives yearly across the United States as part of a comprehensive strategy to reduce alcohol-impaired driving. After the 2009 tax increase in Illinois, the state saw a 26 percent reduction in monthly rates of fatal alcohol-related car crashes. The decrease was much the same for drivers who were alcohol-impaired and extremely drunken drivers, at 22 percent and 25 percent. Younger drivers saw large declines in fatal alcohol-related accidents, at 37 percent. The tax influenced Illinois’ entire driving population.

Relationships Between Social Host Laws and Underage Drinking: Findings From a Study of 50 California Cities
Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs: Volume 75, 2014 > Issue 6: November 2014, pages 901-907.

This study examined relationships between city social host laws and underage drinking in general, and underage drinking at parties in private settings in 50 California cities. Researchers found that local social host policies that include strict liability and civil penalties that are imposed administratively may be associated with less frequent underage drinking in private settings, particularly among adolescents who have already initiated alcohol use.

Effectiveness of Social Host and Fake Identification Laws on Reducing Underage Drinking Driver Fatal Crashes
Traffic Injury Prevention (2014) 15, S64-S73

The minimum legal drinking age-21 (MLDA-21) state laws consist of multiple provisions that support the coreMLDA-21 laws and include a family of policies directed at controlling underage drinking and underage drinking and driving. Because social host and fake identification laws have recently garnered interest by policy makers in the states, this study examined their effectiveness. The study found that for those drivers younger than aged 21 years, fake identification (FID) supplier laws were associated with significant decreases in Fatal Analysis Reporting System (FARS) ratios after states adopted these laws; and the 24 states that have adopted FID supplier laws are saving an estimated 14 lives per year in the United States. An additional 16 lives could be saved if the remaining states adopted this law. FID supplier laws prohibit the production of a FID or transfer of an ID or FID to another person. The more stringent the law (i.e., whether a state prohibits only one element [weaker law] compared to both transferring and manufacturing a FID [stronger]) the more effective a deterrent it becomes to supplying a minor with a FID. States without FID supplier laws should consider adopting them.

New Research Findings since 2007 Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking: A Review
Hingson R & White A. New Research Findings Since the 2007 Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking: A Review. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. January 2014.
Researchers at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) evaluated studies conducted since the 2007 “Call to Action to Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking”. Strategies recommended by the Surgeon General to reduce underage drinking have shown promise when put into practice. These approaches include nighttime restrictions on young drivers and strict license suspension policies, interventions focused on partnerships between college campuses and the community, and routine screening by physicians to identify and counsel underage drinkers. It was recommended that continued research to develop new interventions and implementation of existing strategies that have been shown to be effective is needed.

Efficacy and the Strength of Evidence of U.S. Alcohol Control Policies
American Journal of Preventive Medicine. July 2013; Volume 45, Issue 1 , Pages 19-28
Researchers reviewed alcohol control policies and developed quantitative ratings of their efficacy and strength of evidence. Policies limiting price received the highest ratings, with alcohol taxes receiving the highest ratings for all four outcomes. Highly rated policies for reducing binge drinking and alcohol-impaired driving in the general population also were rated highly among youth, although several policies were rated more highly for youth compared with the general population.

Using Public Health and Community Partnerships to Reduce Density of Alcohol Outlets
Prev Chronic Dis 2013; 10:120090
This study reviews the research on density of alcohol outlets and public health and describes the powers localities have to influence alcohol outlet density. Community coalitions and public health departments can use evidence-based strategies such as alcohol outlet density reduction to create healthier and safer communities.

A Review of Social Host Policies Focused on Underage Drinking Parties: Suggestions for Future Research
J Drug Educ. 2012; 42(1):99-117
Underage drinking continues to be a public health concern, partially due to the ease in which adolescents obtain alcohol and consume it in private locations. States and municipalities have implemented strategies to counteract this, including adopting public policies called social host policies, despite limited evidence of effectiveness. Traditionally, these laws have held adults accountable for furnishing alcohol to underage drinkers. However, states and communities are using another policy, also called social host, to deter underage drinking parties where easy access to alcohol and high-risk use occurs. These innovative laws hold individuals who control the property accountable for underage drinking that occurs there, regardless of alcohol source. Researchers conducted a critical analysis of social host policies focused on hosting underage drinking parties and constructed a conceptual model to understand their targeted factors. Future research recommendations are discussed.

An Examination of the Criticisms of the Minimum Legal Drinking Age 21 Laws in the United States from a Traffic-Safety Perspective
Published October 2008
Perhaps no alcohol safety measure has attracted more research and public attention or shown more consistent evidence of effectiveness than the minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) 21 law in the United States. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has estimated that MLDA laws save approximately 900 lives a year in traffic fatalities alone. Section I of this report presents cases that have been made for lowering the drinking age and examines these arguments. Section II provides information and data on the benefits of MLDA 21 and the extent of teen motor vehicle risks.

Minimum Purchasing Age for Alcohol and Traffic Crash Injuries Among 15- to 19-Year-Olds in New Zealand
American Journal of Public Health: January 2006; Vol. 96, No. 1, pp. 126-131
According to a study based on data from New Zealand, conducted by Robert Voas, Ph.D., at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, lowering the drinking age increases car crashes among youth. The study found that the rate of traffic crashes and injuries increased 12% for 18-19 year old males and 14% among 15-17 year old males in the four years before and after the New Zealand legislature lowered the drinking age to 18. For females, rates rose 51% for 18-19 year olds and 24% for 15-17 year olds. The study estimated that 400 serious injuries and 12 deaths each year among 15-19 year olds would not occur if New Zealand raised their minimum legal drinking age. Currently, there are five U.S. States that have legislation pending to lower their minimum legal drinking age.

Can government policies help adolescents avoid risky behavior?
Preventive Medicine. February 2005; Volume 40, Issue 2, Pages 197-202
Researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health concluded that States can reduce teen alcohol and tobacco use by implementing a variety of measures to make these substances more expensive and harder to obtain. Researchers found that higher alcohol and tobacco taxes cut youth smoking and drinking by 1.9 percent.

Assessing State Readiness to Act on Alcohol Tax Research Findings
The Substance Abuse Policy Research Program (SAPRP) of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) issued a report titled “Assessing State Readiness to Act on Alcohol Tax Research Findings.” The report includes public health findings on alcohol taxes as well as information on the size of State budget deficits, political strength of public health advocates and the alcohol industry, proportions of drinkers and nondrinkers in each State, existing alcohol-related policies, cultural and religious factors, and the burden of alcohol-related health and crime on State budgets in relation to alcohol tax revenue.

Criminal Liability for Hosting Underage Drinking Parties
The Alcohol Policy Information System (APIS) web site includes information about criminal liability for hosting underage drinking parties under its Selected Policy Topics section. The section discusses legislation that holds individuals (social hosts) criminally responsible for underage drinking on property they own, lease, or otherwise control.

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