A study has revealed that ever since the national drinking age in America was set at 21 about two decades ago, there has been a substantial reduction in binge drinking among people of all ages, except college students.
The research from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis also found that the rates of binge drinking in male collegians remain unchanged, but the rates in female collegians have increased dramatically.
The researchers have said that while the policy initiatives aimed at lowering rates of underage drinking generally have been successful, and that binge drinking is down among young people overall, it still remains a problem on college campuses.
Led by Dr. Richard A. Grucza, assistant professor of psychiatry, the researchers analysed data gathered between 1979 and 2006 by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
The data covered over 500,000 subjects, and the researchers divided them into groups, according to age, sex, ethnicity and student status.
"We found that overall, binge drinking is less common than it once was. Young men account for the majority of binge drinkers, and their rates have dropped substantially since 1979. However, at the same time, the 'gender gap' between male and female drinkers has been closing. In this study, we found that women are drinking more, and their rates of binge drinking have risen over the last 30 years," said Grucza.
Binge drinking is defined as having five or more drinks on a given occasion.
The researchers observed that in 2006, the last year for which the data were analysed, more than half of college-age males, and almost 40 percent of college-age females reported binge drinking.
But the researchers found reductions in binge drinking, especially among boys and young men 20 and younger.
In males ages 15 to 17, binge-drinking rates declined nearly 50 percent between 1979 and 2006, while the rates declined more than 20 percent in males aged 18 to 20 and 10 percent in males aged 21 to 23.
On the other hand, binge drinking was statistically unchanged since 1979 in women aged 15 to 20, while for women 21 to 23, binge drinking rose by about 40 percent.
The biggest surprises involved differences between college students and men and women of the same age not enrolled in college.
Binge drinking declined in young men, unless they were in college. It was up slightly in young women, but significantly higher in college women.
Among 18- to 20-year-old non-college men, binge drinking declined by more than 30 percent over the study period, whereas it was statistically unchanged among the men in college.
The study has been reported in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.