New Study Links Alcohol Use with Increased Crime
Prince George, B.C. – What happens when a person turns 19 and is of legal drinking age? According to a new study by the Northern Medical Program at UNBC, once a person reaches the legal drinking age, there is a spike in crime.
The research, led by Dr. Russ Callaghan, involved looking at police reported crime stats from 2009 to 2013. The stats show, a 7.6% increase in crime by young males, and a 10.4% increase among females when compared to those just under the legal drinking age.
“As soon as youth are given legal access to alcohol, there are immediate effects on their involvement in police-reported criminal behaviours,” says Dr. Russ Callaghan, the study`s lead author and an associate professor in the Northern Medical Program. “The number of police-reported criminal incidents involving both male and females who have just reached the legal drinking age rises dramatically, a pattern which illustrates the impact that alcohol-related legislation can have on crime including violent crimes and overall public health.
Dr. Callaghan says the stats are based on police confirmed incidents “They don’t have to result necessarily in arrest or charges, but they are police confirmed so in some ways it might be possible that individuals slightly under the legal drinking age might have a lower incidence because they are young offenders, but that wouldn’t account for the sharp spike immediately after turning the legal drinking age”.
There may be some other factors, such as a young person’s first time away from home, perhaps attending post secondary schools, but Dr. Callaghan says the research is set up to recognize those possibilities “What we have is the rates , of crime by people’s age in weeks. So what is the rate of crime of people 18 years old in one week, 18 years old and two weeks and so forth all the way up to the drinking age, and so the people who are closest to the drinking age, such as a week older than the drinking age opposed to a week younger will be very similar in their social circumstance, their psychiatric functioning, their income and so forth, so you can attribute the jump to crossing the drinking age.
This is another in a series of studies Dr. Callaghan has done on the impact of alcohol related legislation including the impacts on young drivers, in patient hospitalization for alcohol related injuries, and deaths from alcohol related collisions. Recently the Canadian Public Health Association recommended the ideal legal drinking age be 21. Dr. Callaghan doubts there is an appetite to make that jump “It is politically unpalatable to raise it, and so, it and I think one of the things this research shows is that these young people, as they transition across the drinking age, incur a tremendous amount of alcohol related harms. So I’m hoping to galvanize the discussion and get people to think about alcohol as not an ordinary commodity. We many not be able to raise the drinking age here, because of the political climate, but one of the things we can do is we can think about other alcohol control policies that limit some of these harms.”
He points to changes such as a call for zero alcohol tolerance in drivers up to the age of 25 as a possible restriction that could reduce harm.
Many may think Europeans, who have much lower legal drinking ages, don’t have any alcohol related harm “That’s not the case” says Dr. Callaghan “They actually do have tremendous harms , especially young males, suicide, traffic injuries assaults and other kinds of injuries as well.”
His research shows the alcohol related harms among young people drop off during the early 20’s “From my perspective, ideally that would be best age to have it ( legal drinking age) but we also have to face political realities. There is a tension between Public Health and individual choice here. At least in my research, what I’m hoping to do is to provide some evidence for that conversation and that debate.”
He says the discussion is needed in B.C. especially in the wake of the recent alcohol policy reforms to liberalize alcohol outlets and sales, “We need to make sure we understand these policies can have a big impact on youth and youth related harm and we really need to pay attention to that.”