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What's the Best Minimum Drinking Age? Researchers Say 21

Hemera/Thinkstock(ST. LOUIS) -- Binge drinking on college campuses is often cited as a reason to lower the drinking age, while raising the minimum age has been associated with a lower number of traffic fatalities and teen suicides. New data shows that the U.S.'s stringent stance on keeping the legal age at 21 can also have a long-term positive impact on drinking behavior.

Andrew Plunk, a researcher at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, says that people who lived in states with higher drinking age limits tend to drink more moderately.
"The drinking age laws did do that, they reduced drinking problems for people later on in life and the way that they did that was by reducing heavy drinking," Plunk says.

"Alcohol is the leading substance of abuse among youth in the United States," Ralph Hingson, director of the Division of Epidemiology and Prevention Research at NIAAA said, according to ScienceDaily. "Underage persons frequently binge drink, averaging six drinks per occasion five times per month."

For the study, researchers looked at states in the 1970s and '80s that had lower drinking ages compared to those that had drinking ages of 21 years old.

The study's findings, which will be published in the March 2013 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, show that 18 to 21 year olds who don't go to college drink less with a higher legal limit.  In fact, people who were able to legally able to purchase alcohol at a younger age had a 15-percent increased risk of binge drinking more than once a month.

"It's probably wrong to think of that as the driving factor for underage drinking policy," says Plunk. "It's not just individuals on college campuses who benefit from these laws."

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