Vice Squad
Thursday, August 09, 2007
Bingeing on Beer

Adult drinkers in the US who binge -- that's 5 or more drinks at a sitting -- tend to binge on beer. That's not surprising, but it turns out that when teenagers binge, they binge on hard liquor. These results come from two just-published CDC-sponsored studies, as described here.

My previous understanding had been that beer was the alcohol of choice for the younger set. So this new study makes me wonder if efforts to police underage drinking -- the teens in the study were mainly high schoolers -- are actually having more of an effect. And as the country as a whole found out in the 1920s, a prohibition pushes consumers towards more potent forms of their substances. When the prohibition against teen drinking was lightly enforced, this line of thinking would go, teens preferred beer, and for the same reasons as adults: relatively cheap and relatively available. But make alcohol harder for kids to come by, and the couple of bottles of vodka -- more easily transported and hidden, and perhaps easier to consume more quickly -- begin to look better than a case of beer.

One of the policy issues this touches upon is the tax mix among different forms of alcohol. I have long believed that hard liquor is almost a different drug than beer or wine, and much more dangerous. Therefore, I think a policy that taxes hard liquor more heavily than wine and beer (and regulates it more strictly in other manners) is generally a good idea. And though I am against the current federally-imposed drinking age of 21, the fact that underage kids now prefer to drink heavily with hard liquor reinforces my view that the hard stuff should be differentially taxed.

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