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Hang on, there’s actually quite a lot of evidence to support raising the drinking age

The Croakey debate about the merits of raising the legal drinking age continues…

Dr Tanya Chikritzhs, an Associate Professor and Statistical Advisor at the National Drug Research Institute (NDRI), Curtin University of Technology, says there are good reasons for thinking such a move could bring wide-ranging and important benefits.

She writes:

“The argument for lowering the drinking age in some Australian states in the late 1960s and 1970s did not have the benefit of decades of scientific research evidence. In the Australian states that did not already have 18 years as the minimum legal purchase age (MLPA), the decision to drop the age limit was made in the context of war and the popular political argument went something like this; ‘If a young person’s life can be put at risk in the service of their country then surely the same 18 year old deserves a place at the local bar’.

Similar arguments have been put forward in relation to minimum drinking age and the legal age for voting, marriage, possession of firearms (in the USA) and other social activities.

Since the 1970s, a great deal of scientific research evidence has amassed on the impact of changing MLPA, and much of it comes from the USA (see Professor Wayne Hall’s Croakey article).

It is not well recalled and perhaps too often overlooked that there were in fact a number of Australian studies which showed that dropping the MLPA substantially increased road traffic fatalities and hospitalisations in this country. In SA, after reducing the MLPA from 21 to 20 yrs in 1968, road fatalities among 17-20 yr olds increased by about 76% in the 2 years immediately following the change. In WA, SA, Qld and Tas, increases in serious crash injuries among 17-20 year olds ranged from 10% to 23%.

The debate so far gives the impression that the evidence for MLPA extends only to road crashes but that is not the case. There were a handful of Australian studies which examined the impact of the reduced MLPA on juvenile crime and emergency department admissions.

Following the change, male juvenile crime (particularly burglary, motor vehicle larceny and drunkenness) increased by between 20% and 30% in QLD, SA, WA and Tas. Emergency department (ED) and hospital presentations for non-crash related injuries also increased.

In Qld, the number of 15-17 year old females admitted for assaultive injuries reportedly rose by some 150%. Significant increases (between 14% and 40%) in ED presentations were found for non-crash injuries such as falls, poisonings, burns, and drowning for young males and females.

In 2005, about 5,400 16-19 yr olds were hospitalised for road crash injuries while over 140 died. The annual count of hospitalisations for assault, falls, burns and drowning for this age group now exceeds 9,000. (Data on 17-20 yr olds could not be readily accessed.)

A single evidence-based intervention which could reduce these deaths and injuries by even 5% a year would be a substantial improvement on the status quo.

At the very least, raising the legal minimum drinking age is an idea worthy of more serious consideration than it’s being given when the debate regresses to 1960s rhetoric and bypasses decades of scientific research evidence.”

Comments 7

  1. Bogdanovist says:

    I don’t think many people would disagree, but I think this misses the point of the argument slightly. We could raise the drinking age and we’d get some of the above benefits. We could even ban alcohol altogether, or make it insanely expensive via taxation, and get even more benefit across the community. This is not fundamentally in dispute, so pointing out that the evidence is ‘scientific’ doesn’t really get you any further in the debate.

    The question is whether society wants to forgo the pleasures of drinking in order to make these gains. At present I’d say that’s a resounding no. Not because people want to ‘bypass decades of scientific research evidence’ but because people accept that there is always a trade off between pleasure and risk.

    As a scientist, I cringe when I see people trying to beat society over the head with ‘the scientific evidence’, especially when that evidence accords with common sense anyway, but then ignore the more complex cultural questions. We can’t reduce this debate to simply an exercise in statistics.

  2. Doctor Whom says:

    I can’t really see how rising the drinking age to 21 or so will stop 14, 15 16, 17 years olds from drinking.

    They do now. They did when I was young. And they will in the future.

    A thing most people forget is that drinking, and drinking too much, is generally bloody great fun when you are young. It’s even good fun for a few older people.

    Drinking and driving isn’t fun.

    I want to see figures on how many of those killed in road accidents X age – were in a car driven by an unlicensed driver or a drunk driver or a driver over 22. We already have laws against drunk or unlicensed driving.

    I think the increases in crashes and crime noted above have too many confounding variables to note much more than a correlation.

  3. Andrew G says:

    I had some great times with mates drinking at 16, 17 and beyond. No fights or drink driving incidents, just great times with mates and great memories that we still talk about now we are in our mid 20’s.

    People from the suburbs with parents who aren’t great role models get bored and do silly things. no-one is willing to say that but I think thats the main cause.

  4. peach1 says:

    Raising the drinking age will not solve the problem.

    A better approach would be to leave the drunks where they fall over and not waste time by taking them to the hospital.
    If they wake up a few times covered in their own vomit in the gutter they may learn a bit.
    Those who beat each other up should be also left in the street. Perhaps if they are half bled to death and covered in bruises that hurt once the sobered up plus missing a few teeth they may realize getting pissed isn’t worth that much trouble.

    Lets face it do you want your Medicare levy (tax dollars) dollars be spent on some drunk who caused it ,what ever his problem is, himself.

    Have those that despite the above approach are still admitted pay four times the cost of the stay and treatment ( no Medicare) and you will find they won’t have the money for getting pissed for a number of weeks.

    It is an approach worth trying.

  5. Doctor Whom says:

    peach1 – and why boot not smokers out of health care and doddery old farts on zimmer frames who stagger out on the road 10 meters form lights and get run over and any chubby bugger who is drinking a can of soft drink and idiots who crash their cars and silly old coots who fall and break their hips after too much cooking sherry……

  6. chantel says:

    I doubt anyone would disagree with this statement on evidence based support on raising the drinking age, as alcohol consumption is particularly high in this country especially amongst those aged between 18-25.

    But I have to wonder with all of this scientific evidence, how many people actually read it and take on board what’s being put forward and say “well now that it’s been scientifically proven, I better stop?” unfortunately, not enough. We’ve all heard that excessive drinking especially from an early age can cause problems in later life especially with alcohol dependency and other related health issues.

    The Alcohol use and Harms (2009) study found supporting evidence to suggest that adolescents are consuming alcohol at an earlier age with most drinking at levels their health and others at risk. Though with all of this evidence available for public viewing why is there still a problem with under age drinking and how can raising the drinking age combat such a widespread and growing problem.

    I think there is too much focus on accident related concerns rather than social ones and influences on why adolescents are more likely to engage in risky drinking behaviours. For example many studies in both Australia and the US have found that alcohol consumption in adolescents was significantly higher amongst adolescents who socialize with other adolescents who drink rather than those engaging in other activities, making it a social issue. Or the fact that parents are also a major influence on their children’s drinking behaviours. Some studies found that parent’s who drank excessively himself or herself were more likely to condone their own children’s drinking behaviours.

    From a political perspective do you think that raising the legal drinking age will gain many if any votes from anyone between the age of 18-21? When Rudd was on Q&A on February 8 he was asked a question on whether the drinking age should be raised to 21 (to which he initially said “of course”, before realising he had inadvertently given a straight answer and backpedalling.) The question is why do you think that he felt he had to do that? Not that it matters as he soon learned later that taking a strong stance on something can in the long run be political suicide.

    Don’t get me wrong I don’t disagree with what has been presented in recent papers, and especially with the argument put forward by Chikritzhs, however if most people were to do their own research they might actually find that some of the studies conducted in the US on traffic related accidents found that the most common age of those involved in car accidents is actually 18-25 with most unrelated to alcohol, along with crime and violence being more drug related than alcohol.

    I guess at the end of the day regardless of whatever information is put out there even with the scientific evidence to support it, people are still going to make their own decisions based on other factors and besides do you think that raising the age will actually deter anyone from drinking when it doesn’t seem to now?

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MyHospitals website
National Commission of Audit 2014
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Pregnancy and childbirth
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Acknowledgement
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PIJ Commissions 2021
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#PreventiveHealthStrategy
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Health in All Policies
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Croakey Conference News Service 2013 – 2019
2013 conferences
Australian Centre for Health Services Innovation Forum 2013
Australian Health Promotion Association Conference 2013
Closing the Credibility Gap 2013
CRANAplus Conference 2013
FASD Conference 2013
Health Workforce Australia 2013
International Health Literacy Network Conference 2013
NACCHO Summit 2013
National Rural Health Conference 2013
Oceania EcoHealth Symposium 2013
PHAA conference 2013
2014 conferences
#IPCHIV14
AIDA Conference 2014
Congress Lowitja 2014
CRANAplus conference 2014
Cultural Solutions - Healing Foundation forum 2014
Lowitja Institute Continuous Quality Improvement conference 2014
National Suicide Prevention Conference 2014
Racism and children/youth health symposium 2014
Rural & Remote Health Scientific Symposium 2014
2015 conferences
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Population Health Congress 2015
2016 conferences
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#cphce2016
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2017 conferences
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