Raising the drinking age

Raising the drinking age saves lives, helps our young to grow, significantly lowers suicide, homicide and violence and protects our children from harm

Women who were legally allowed to consume alcohol before age 21 had a higher risk for death by suicide or homicide, according to a population-based study.  “We observed a significant minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) and sex interaction in the prediction of both suicide and homicide that corresponded to a 12% elevation in suicide risk and a 15% elevation in homicide risk for women exposed to an MLDA of less than 21” wrote Richard Grucza, PhD, MPE, and colleagues in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

This is nothing new but what do we know so far?

  1. Widespread implementation of an MLDA of 21 would prevent more than 1,200 suicides and homicides every year in the USA alone.  This would be comparable per capita in NZ.  This alone makes it a worthwhile social policy.
  2. Many previous studies have proven that suicide and homicide rates are directly associated with per capita alcohol consumption.
  3. New Zealand has the #1 suicide rates for young women aged 15-24 IN THE WORLD.  
  4. Alcohol is present in 30% of homicide victims.  If we want to really help the disenfranchised in society then a higher drinking age would immediately do just that.  
  5. Psychological autopsy studies have shown that 56% of people who committed suicide abused alcohol.  Drinking = higher suicide = preventable death.
  6. Alcohol directly causes cancer and this has been proven many times over.  A 2011 study published in the British Medical Journal estimated that alcohol consumption causes at least 13,000 cancer cases in the UK each year – breast cancer, liver cancer, colon cancer and more.  “You cannot get a cancer cell occurring unless DNA is altered.  When you drink, the acetaldehyde is corrupting the DNA of life and puts you on the road to cancer.  One of most common genetic defects in man is our inability to counteract the toxicity of alcohol” says Dr Nick Sheron, who runs the liver unit at Southampton General Hospital.
  7. Over the past 20 to 30 years, deaths from liver disease have increased by 500%, with 85% of those due to alcohol.  The average lifespan for someone with alcoholic liver disease is their 40s.  I have known people who have died in their 40s from preventable disease that was fuelled by an overindulgence of alcohol.
  8. Alcohol is more dangerous to society than heroin or crack cocaine combined according to The Lancet.  The study by the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs also ranked alcohol as three times more harmful than cocaine or tobacco because it is so widely used.
  9. Alcohol-related hospital admissions reached record worldwide levels in 2010.
  10. Alcohol lowers fertility (which is already lower than any other time in history) and increases your risk of almost every sickness we know of including diabetes and heart disease.

Spare me the rubbish and raise the drinking age
The usual arguments about the drinking age revolve around “if you can go to war for your country at age 18 then you should be able to drink” and I can understand this sentiment.  After all we go to war to protect our nation and preserve life.  The irony is that a higher drinking age also protects our nation, our elderly, our young people, our children, our families, our society and our country AND preserves life. 

A higher drinking age of 21 supports our youth, lowers the death rate from depression (which is always linked with alcohol intake), lowers the death rates of suicide (which is always linked with alcohol intake), and lowers the rates of violence, homicide and infanticide (which is always linked with alcohol intake).  Is this not something worth fighting for?  I have said it many times but just because something has been done for a long time, it does not make it smart or the right thing to do. 

I voted against lowering the drinking age in NZ in 1999 and I would do so again today.  Why?  First do no harm.  The harm and death to our young people must be prevented at every opportunity.  They are our future.  I am more committed to our children than politics or grandstanding.  I gave up drinking 26 years ago and it has served me well.  My 16-year-old brother was killed by a drunk driver in the middle of the day on a Saturday afternoon.  When you are 21 your brain is fully developed and you are able to make rash decisions.  Your brain at 16 or 18 is still a muddle of hormones, emotional chaos and self-obsessed rebellion.  You have enough going on as a youth without pouring the poison of alcohol in as well.    

Study published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research by Grucza R, et al “The legacy of minimum legal drinking age law changes: Long-term effects on suicide and homicide deaths among women” 2011.  They suggested that individuals allowed to drink before 21 were at an elevated risk for alcohol-related problems later in life (Alcohol Clinical Experimental Research 2009; 33: 2180-2190).  For the current study, the group examined the long-term effects of MLDA in the years 1990 to 2004.  They used data on suicide and homicide rates for those years from the Multiple Cause of Death Files of the National Center for Health Statistics.  They merged that data with living population data from the U.S. Census and the 2004 American Community Survey, which served as the control.  The authors noted that demographics for the study group and the control group were comparable.  The study population consisted of individuals who turned 18 from 1967 to 1990 (born between 1949 and 1972) in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.  As reported by MedPage Today on November 19, 2011.

Posted: Wednesday 14 December 2011