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State laws can help curb binge drinking

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TUESDAY, Dec. 10, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Strong state alcohol control policies make a difference in efforts to help prevent binge drinking, a new study finds.

Binge drinking -- generally defined as having more than four to five alcoholic drinks in a two-hour period -- is responsible for more than half of the 80,000 alcohol-related deaths in the United States each year.

"If alcohol policies were a newly discovered gene, pill or vaccine, we'd be investing billions of dollars to bring them to market," study senior author Dr. Tim Naimi, an associate professor of medicine at Boston University Schools of Medicine and attending physician at Boston Medical Center (BMC), said in a BMC news release.

Naimi and his colleagues gave scores to states based on their implementation of 29 alcohol control policies. States with higher policy scores were one-fourth as likely as those with lower scores to have binge drinking rates in the top 25 percent of states.

This was true even after the researchers accounted for a variety of factors associated with alcohol consumption, such as age, sex, race, income, geographic region, urban-rural differences, and levels of police and alcohol enforcement personnel.

Alcohol policy scores varied by as much as threefold between states, the investigators found. And nearly half of the states had less than 50 percent of the maximum score in any particular year from 2000 to 2010. In addition, the study authors noted, binge drinking rates were 33 percent higher in states in the bottom quarter than those in the top quarter of policy scores.

The study is published in the current issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

"Unfortunately, most states have not taken advantage of these policies to help drinkers consume responsibly, and to protect innocent citizens from the devastating secondhand effects and economic costs from excessive drinking," Naimi said.

"The bottom line is that this study adds an important dimension to a large body of research demonstrating that alcohol policies matter -- and matter a great deal -- for reducing and preventing the fundamental building block of alcohol-related problems," he concluded.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about binge drinking.

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