The purported scientific journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research has just published another doozy, this one entitled The Legacy of Minimum Legal Drinking Age Law Changes: Long-Term Effects on Suicide and Homicide Deaths Among Women. The idea was to compare people drinking before the age was raised to 21 with when 18-year olds could still legally imbibe, but the conclusions are .. well, off the deep end and unnecessarily alarmist. So, of course, anti-alcohol groups are running with the results, just as you’d expect.
Despite it being in a “scientific journal” it appears to be nothing more than junk science. They start with this premise. “Prior to the establishment of the uniform drinking age of 21 in the United States, many states permitted legal purchase of alcohol at younger ages. Lower drinking ages were associated with several adverse outcomes, including elevated rates of suicide and homicide among youth.” Really? So the other 139 nations who allow people 18 or under are all killing their kids, getting them to commit suicide more often or generally simply not caring about their health. Most of the rest of the world allows their citizens to drink before they turn 21. Apart from the eight countries where it’s illegal for everyone — mostly for religious reasons — only a dozen countries are as high as 21 (only 5 according to Alcohol Problems & Conclusions), like us. Clearly, the rest of the world hates its kids, right?
Here’s the rest of the Abstract:
Methods: Analysis of data from the U.S. Multiple Cause of Death files, 1990 to 2004, combined with data on the living population from the U.S. Census and American Community Survey. The assembled data contained records on over 200,000 suicides and 130,000 homicides for individuals born between 1949 and 1972, the years during which the drinking age was in flux. Logistic regression models were used to evaluate whether adults who were legally permitted to drink prior to age 21 were at elevated risk for death by these causes. A quasi-experimental analytical approach was employed, which incorporated state and birth-year fixed effects to account for unobserved covariates associated with policy exposure.
Results: In the population as a whole, we found no association between minimum drinking age and homicide or suicide. However, significant policy-by-sex interactions were observed for both outcomes, such that women exposed to permissive drinking age laws were at higher risk for both suicide (OR = 1.12, 95% CI: 1.05, 1.18, p = 0.0003) and homicide (OR = 1.15, 95% CI: 1.04, 1.25, p = 0.0028). Effect sizes were stronger for the portion of the cohort born after 1960, whereas no significant effects were observed for women born prior to 1960.
Conclusions: Lower drinking ages may result in persistent elevated risk for suicide and homicide among women born after 1960. The national drinking age of 21 may be preventing about 600 suicides and 600 homicides annually.
Okay, the first thing that should stick out is the statement that “[i]n the population as a whole, we found no association between minimum drinking age and homicide or suicide.” But then they go on to suggest “significant” findings for just women, even though their findings show that for suicide, a woman is only 12% more likely to commit suicide if she starts drinking legally at 18, and 15% more likely to be murdered. That hardly sounds “significant” and seems small enough that statistical error alone could account for some of the difference. But more importantly, it makes no allowance for any of the literally millions of other factors that lead to any person committing suicide or being murdered. And there’s just no causation or direct correlation linking the two outcomes. The difference in time alone could account for the statistical difference. The time when the age was 18 was different than later, when it was 21. Times change, and so accordingly would how people react to it.
And again, even though it’s only women who the “study” found were affected, they note that the “trends were not mirrored among men,” but examining all this data that “proves” a link for women, their answer to why it doesn’t increase a risk for men is this. “It’s hard to say why that happened.” Well, how scientific. When the results are what they’re looking for, they point to the data. When the data doesn’t support the conclusion they want, they don’t know what happened. Hmm.
Join Together’s headline, Lower Legal Drinking Age Linked to Higher Risk for Homicide, Suicide in Women, claims there is a definite link (which the study itself never says). And their graphic shows a presumably passed out woman in front of a blurry empty bottle of liquor. At the end of their article, lead researcher Richard Grucza says the following. “In fact, what we have here is a natural experiment that supports that idea, by demonstrating an unintended but positive consequence that comes from having raised the drinking age.” But there’s nothing natural about that conclusion. Just like MADD in the past has claimed victory against drunk driving deaths while ignoring improved car safety, mandatory seat belt laws and countless other factors, this “study” looks at two cohorts of numbers and jumps to a conclusion worthy of Evel Knievel’s rocket car leap over the Snake River without ever showing a connection actually linking the two outcomes. Really, they just assume there is a connection, presumably for no better reason than they’re looking for one.
It just feels like there’s no real evidence to truly support such far-reaching conclusions, more like they’re using the data to force an outcome. They’ve certainly over-simplified society and the complex ways in which people determine they want out or want to take someone else out. So they blame alcohol, and when people started drinking.