Archive for February, 2013

Lower drinking ages lead to more binge drinking

People who grew up in states where it was legal to drink alcohol before age 21 are more likely to be binge drinkers later in life, according to a study by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

The findings are available online in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

The researchers tracked the long-term drinking behavior of more than 39,000 people who began consuming alcohol in the 1970s, when some states had legal drinking ages as low as 18.

More Frequent Binge Drinking

“It wasn’t just that lower minimum drinking ages had a negative impact on people when they were young,” explains first author Andrew D. Plunk, PhD, a post-doctoral research fellow in psychiatry. “Even decades later, the ability to legally purchase alcohol before age 21 was associated with more frequent binge drinking.”

The study shows that people who lived in states with lower minimum drinking ages weren’t more likely to consume more alcohol overall or to drink more frequently than those from states where the drinking age was 21, but when they did drink, they were more likely to drink heavily.

The effect was most pronounced among men who did not attend college. And the researchers say the findings should be a warning to those who advocate lowering the minimum drinking age.

Non-College Drinkers Affected Too

“Binge drinking on college campuses is a very serious problem,” Plunk says. “But it’s also important not to completely forget about young people who aren’t on college campuses. In our study, they had the greatest risk of suffering the long-term consequences linked to lower drinking ages.

Plunk and his colleagues found that even decades later, men who grew up in states with a legal drinking age lower than 21 were 19 percent more likely to binge drink more than once per month. Among those who didn’t go to college, the odds of binging more than once a month increased by 31 percent.

Through surveys conducted in the early 1990s and again in the early 2000s, the researchers tracked the average daily alcohol intake, overall drinking frequency and the frequency of binge episodes — defined as five or more drinks during a single period of drinking for a man or four-plus drinks for a woman. They also looked at how often a person drank but did not binge, which is thought to be a less harmful drinking pattern.

Detecting Harmful Drinking Patterns

“There’s a difference between tracking average daily consumption of alcohol and measuring drinking patterns,” explains senior author Richard A. Grucza, PhD, an associate professor of psychiatry. “Merely tracking average daily consumption can hide harmful drinking patterns. Averaging one drink per day doesn’t sound like much, but if that same person has all their drinks for the week in one sitting, well that’s a potential problem.”

Due to concerns about binge drinking on college campuses, some policymakers think that lowering the drinking age may encourage college students to moderate their alcohol use.

“The ‘take away message’ is that we need to consider all of the potential consequences of changing the drinking age,” Plunk explains. “We shouldn’t be too narrow in our focus when we think about how young people are affected by these laws. This study shows there’s a large population that benefitted from a higher legal drinking age. Laws apply to everyone, but if they are based only on the impact on one group like college students, we may end up forgetting about how those laws affect other people.”

February 23rd, 2013  in Alcohol No Comments »

Favorite Youth Alcohol Brands Identified

A relatively small number of alcohol brands dominate underage youth alcohol consumption, according to a new report from researchers at the Boston University School of Public Health and the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The report, published online by Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, is the first national study to identify the alcohol brands consumed by underage youth, and has important implications for alcohol research and policy.

The top 25 brands accounted for nearly half of youth alcohol consumption. In contrast, adult consumption is nearly twice as widely spread among different brands. Close to 30 percent (27.9%) of underage youth sampled reported drinking Bud Light within the past month; 17 percent had consumed Smirnoff malt beverages within the previous month, and about 15 percent (14.6%) reported drinking Budweiser in the 30-day period:

Rank, Brand Reported Use in Previous 30 Days Among Underage Youth

1. Bud Light 27.9%

2. Smirnoff Malt Beverages 17.0%

3. Budweiser 14.6%

4. Smirnoff Vodkas 12.7%

5. Coors Light 12.7%

6. Jack Daniel’s Bourbons 11.4%

7. Corona Extra 11.3%

8. Mike’s 10.8%

9. Captain Morgan Rums 10.4%

10. Absolut Vodkas 10.1%

Of the top 25 consumed brands, 12 were spirits brands (including four vodkas), nine were beers, and four were flavored alcohol beverages.

Profiting From Youth Drinking

“For the first time, we know what brands of alcoholic beverages underage youth in the U.S. are drinking,” said study author David Jernigan, PhD, CAMY director. “Importantly, this report paves the way for subsequent studies to explore the association between exposure to alcohol advertising and marketing efforts and drinking behavior in young people.”

Alcohol is responsible for 4,700 deaths per year among young people under the age of 21. More than 70 percent of high school students have consumed alcohol, and about 22 percent engage in heavy episodic drinking. At least 14 studies have found that the more young people are exposed to alcohol advertising and marketing, the more likely they are to drink, or if they are already drinking, to drink more.

Reducing the Appeal

The researchers surveyed 1,032 youth ages 13-20 via an Internet-based survey instrument. Respondents were asked about their past 30-day consumption of 898 brands of alcohol among 16 alcoholic beverage types, including the frequency and amount of each brand consumed in the past 30 days.

“We now know, for the first time, what alcohol brands – and which companies – are profiting the most from the sale of their products to underage drinkers,” said lead study author Michael Siegel, MD, MPH, professor of Community Health Sciences at the Boston University School of Public Health. “The companies implicated by this study as the leading culprits in the problem of underage drinking need to take immediate action to reduce the appeal of their products to youth.”

February 20th, 2013  in Alcohol No Comments »

Alcohol consumption leading preventable cause of cancer

Researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) have shown that alcohol is a major contributor to cancer deaths and years of potential life lost. These findings, published in the April 2013 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, also show that reducing alcohol consumption is an important cancer prevention strategy as alcohol is a known carcinogen even when consumed in small quantities.

Previous studies consistently have shown that alcohol consumption is a significant risk factor for cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus and liver. More recent research has shown that alcohol also increases the risk of cancers of the colon, rectum and female breast. While estimates have shown that alcohol accounts for about four percent of all cancer-related deaths worldwide, there is a lack of literature focusing on cancer-related deaths in the U.S.

20,000 Deaths Per Year

Timothy Naimi, MD, MPH, from the Department of Medicine at BUSM and colleagues from the National Cancer Institute, the Alcohol Research Group, Public Health Institute and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, examined recent data from the U.S. on alcohol consumption and cancer mortality. They found that alcohol resulted in approximately 20,000 cancer deaths annually, accounting for about 3.5 percent of all cancer deaths in the U.S.

Breast cancer was the most common cause of alcohol-attributable cancer deaths in women, accounting for approximately 6,000 deaths annually, or about 15 percent of all breast cancer deaths. Cancers of the mouth, throat and esophagus were common causes of alcohol-attributable cancer mortality in men, resulting in a total of about 6,000 annual deaths.

18 Years of Life Lost

The researchers also found that each alcohol-related cancer death accounted for an average of 18 years of potential life lost. In addition, although higher levels of alcohol consumption led to a higher cancer risk, average consumption of 1.5 drinks per day or less accounted for 30 percent of all alcohol-attributable cancer deaths.

“The relationship between alcohol and cancer is strong, but is not widely appreciated by the public and remains underemphasized even by physicians,” said Naimi, who served as the paper’s senior author. “Alcohol is a big preventable cancer risk factor that has been hiding in plain sight.”

February 16th, 2013  in Alcohol No Comments »