Binge Drinking Puts Lives at Risk Off the Highways
Legal Age 21 has created an environment of excess consumption and goal-oriented drinking. According to the Center for Disease Control, 18-20 year-olds experienced the steepest increase in binge drinking rates—56%--between 1993 and 2001. Amongst the entire population of underage drinkers (12-20 year-olds, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health), overall rates of binge drinking increased from 15.2% to 18.9% between 1991 and 2003. During the same time period, there was a steady decline in the prevalence of alcohol consumption among 12-20 year-olds. While fewer young people are drinking, those who choose to drink are drinking more, and are doing so at dangerous and alarming rates.
Ninety percent of the alcohol consumed by 18-20 year-olds is consumed when the individual is engaged in an episode of heavy drinking. During these episodes, of which intoxication is the goal, a large quantity of alcohol is consumed in a short period of time, whether through taking shots of hard liquor or playing drinking games. Especially when understood in terms of the effect of large quantities of alcohol on the developing brain, these are alarming statistics, of which tragedy and loss of life are often the result. Over 1,000 lives per year are lost to alcohol off the highways, a figure that has been increasing over the past decade. Alcohol poisoning, in which an individual literally drinks him or herself to death, has become increasingly prevalent amongst young people; the number of alcohol poisoning deaths amongst 18-23 year olds per year showed a steady increase between 1999 and 2005. Of those deaths, 53% were of individuals under the age of 21.
These indicators hardly show that the 21 year-old drinking age and the current approach to educating young people about responsible alcohol use has had the intended effect of reducing the misuse of alcohol among adolescents and young adults.