Thursday, May 31, 2012

Teen Drinking Plummets--In the UK

In the USA, teen drinking has been falling since about 1980, with the exception of a brief increase from 1993-1997, and has reached a record low in 2011 according to the Monitoring the Future survey.  While many pro-21 folks like to claim credit for the decrease, they might want to rethink their position after reading the latest news from across the pond.  In the UK, where the drinking age is 18, teen drinking (including "binge" drinking) has also declined recently despite not raising the drinking age to 21.  In fact, weekly drinking among 11-15 year olds dropped by half since 2001, while disapproval of peers' drinking has increased.  Drinking among 16-24 year olds has also dropped significantly since 1998.  Unfortunately, at the same time, the drinking habits of people over 25 have gotten worse--kind of like it has over here.

So why haven't the mainstream media been talking about this good news?  For starters, bad news tends to sell more than good news.  But even more importantly, this news contradicts the popular belief that teenagers and young adults are the biggest contributors to the nation's drinking problem, and exposes the problem for what it really is.  And that doesn't sit well with older adults too well--in either country.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Still More Things Underage Drinkers Didn't Do (Part 5)

See previous posts as well.   It's been a while, and in the past few months or so:

An underage drinker did NOT drunkenly drive her Mercedes-Benz through a 96 year old woman's house.

An underage drinker did NOT drive while drunk (and coked-up) and crash her Jeep, severely injuring her three kids and sending two elderly people in another car to the hospital.

An underage drinker did NOT drive drunk with her 2 year old daughter in tow, try to outrun the cops, and crash into a tree, all while pregnant.

An underage drinker did NOT drunkenly crash into an AutoZone store and then attempt to speed off.

An underage drinker did NOT kill a 6 year old child in a crash after driving with a BAC of more than  double the legal limit.

An underage drinker did NOT injure a police officer by dragging him along the roadway while driving drunk.

An underage drinker did NOT steal an ambulance from a hospital and drunkenly crash it into two parked cars.

An underage drinker did NOT drunkenly strike a blind man in a crosswalk.

And that, my friends, is just the tip of the iceberg.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Happy Memorial Day!

This Memorial Day, let's not forget those who died for our country BEFORE they were old enough to drink legally.  A list of all those who made the ultimate sacrifice for America before the age of 21 since 2001 can be found here.  Let's also not forget the countless others who came back wounded as well.

Let America be America again, and lower the drinking age to 18.  If you're old enough to go to war, you're old enough to go to the bar.  'Nuff said.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Just How Dangerous Are Alcohol/Energy Drink Combinations?

Recently, there has been a great deal of scare stories regarding the supposed dangers of alcohol mixed with energy drinks (AMEDs for short).  In 2010 this led to the banning of premixed canned AMEDs such as the notorious Four Loko, which still is on the market but without the caffeine and taurine.  Of course, drinkers (and bartenders) are free (for now at least) to mix energy drinks with alcohol after obtaining them separately.  But are such fears (and laws based on them) actually warranted, or are they exaggerated?

A recent review of the scientific literature on the topic of AMEDs suggests that the dangers have been greatly exaggerated.  After surveying numerous studies of the effects of combining the two beverages, the authors concluded that there was, contrary to popular opinion:
  • virtually no hard evidence that adding energy drinks to the mix significantly alters the behavioral effects of alcohol
  • no reliable evidence that energy drinks significantly affect the perceived level of intoxication by drinkers
  • zero evidence that mixing energy drinks with alcohol increases the odds of alcohol or drug abuse or dependence, and
  • no significant adverse health effects for healthy individuals from combining energy drinks and alcohol in moderation.
Of course, it should go without saying that both alcohol and energy drinks, alone or in combination, can indeed be harmful when consumed to excess.  Also, one should always remember that caffeine (in energy drinks or otherwise) does not make a drunk person less impaired or more able to drive.  The best take-home message from all this is that moderation is the key.

In the case of Four Loko and similar drinks, it appears that the real issue was not that it contained alcohol and caffeine in combination, but rather that it contained such large amounts of each per can.  One 23-ounce can apparently contained the equivalent of 5 shots of vodka and 3 cans of Red Bull, and typically cost less than $3.00.  Such cheap and highly potent concoctions don't exactly promote moderation.  But unfortunately that fact was lost in all the hysteria over alcohol and energy drinks.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Hand Sanitizer Hype

Anyone who has looked at the news in the past two weeks is probably familiar with the latest moral panic:  teenagers drinking hand sanitizer to get drunk.   Apparently, most hand sanitizers (which unlike beer don't have an age limit) contail large amounts of ethanol (i.e. drinking alcohol), up to 60-70% in fact--making it nearly as strong as 151.  So strong, in fact, that some teens ended up in the emergency room with alcohol poisoning as a result.  (WARNING:  DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!)  And the media are clearly eating it up.

But is there really any reason to panic?  Probably not.  For one thing, overall teenage drinking is actually at a record low according to the Monitoring the Future survey and other surveys.  Secondly, alcohol "surrogates" are nothing new--vanilla extract, mouthwash, and cough medicine all typically contain alcohol and have no age limit to purchase them despite the fact that they are (ironically) more harmful than normal alcoholic beverages.  There have always been at least some people consuming them, and there is zero hard evidence that surrogates in general are any more popular among young people today than they were a generation ago.  In fact, very few teens actually end up resorting to drinking sanitizer or any other surrogate alcohol, and so far the number reportedly ending up in the ER from sanitizer remains in the single digits.  But just like moral panics and media hype about glue-sniffing in the 1960s actually made the practice more popular among teenagers, there is the same potential for hand sanitizer to follow such a trend if the media keeps at it long enough.

One thing is clear, however.   The idea that the drinking age should be 21 (as opposed to 18) to keep booze away from high-schoolers now appears to be even more of a canard in light of the fact that kids of any age can just drink sanitizer (and other more harmful surrogates) to catch a cheap buzz when all else fails.  It appears that this "trickle-down" theory is just as bogus as the other one.

If all this sounds similar to what happened during Prohibition, you would be correct.  "Paint remover" (industrial denatured alcohol) and various patent medicines like "ginger jake" were among the surrogates used by drinkers in the 1920s, with disastrous consequences.   Sadly, as many as 10,000 people died as a result, and their blood lies on the hands of the feds who mandated the deliberate poisoning of alcohol surrogates while simultaneously denying legal, quality-controlled alcoholic beverages to the people for thirteen years in a row.  The results were all too painfully predictable.  And unfortunately, those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.