Study Suggests Strict Adult Alcohol Policies Reduce Underage Drinking

States with well-rounded alcohol policies had lower rates of teen drinking.

Teens may not want to listen to their parents, but new research from Boston Medical Center (BMC) and Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) says they may listen to laws intended for their parents.

The study looked at U.S. states’ adult- and youth-specific alcohol policies and assigned scores to each state based on the regulations’ efficacy and enforcement. Then, the researchers looked at those states’ youth drinking statistics from past Youth Risk Behavior Surveys. They found that for every 10 percentage points higher the state’s policy score was, teens in that area were to 7 percent less likely to binge drink and 8 percent less likely to drink at all. Data about which states scored highest was not made available to the public.

Before you say duh, the important takeaway is that adult regulations, not just youth-targeted policies, are an effective way to reduce underage drinking. Things like high alcohol taxes, stringent liquor licensing, and happy hour restrictions all had an impact on the states’ alcohol scores, and thus, indirectly, on teen drinking rates. The study’s lead author Ziming Xuan, a BUSPH community health sciences professor, emphasized the importance of adult alcohol laws in a statement:

“By investigating how these relationships with youth drinking interplay with the adult drinking environment, we were able to take our analyses much further,” Xuan said. “Adult-oriented alcohol policies likely influence youth via parallel pathways: Some of the effect is directly on youth, and some is indirect through its effects on adults.”