Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Canadian drinking

Often in our work to prevent underage drinking, we hear the argument that countries with a lower minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) have fewer problems with alcohol. And since Canada is our nearest neighbor—and the Canadian MLDA is 19 in most provinces (18 in Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec)—we thought we’d share recent research results about teen drinking in Canada—and compare them with stats from Portland, Maine.

Manitoba 2009

Portland 2008

% of 9th graders who drank in the past month



% of 12th graders who drank in the past month



% of 9th graders who binge drank recently

19% (within 30 days)

18% (within 2 weeks)

% of 12th graders who binge drank recently

51% (within 30 days)

31% (within 2 weeks)

These statistics demonstrate that a lower drinking age doesn’t improve alcohol-related problems for youth—in fact it increases the likelihood that younger teens will drink and drink more heavily.

The Manitoban government is addressing these issues “by boosting fines, cranking up public-awareness campaigns and convening a summit on the issue. [They] also vowed [March 4] to beef up enforcement of laws preventing the sale of tobacco to minors, while boosting fines for offending clerks and retailers”(source)—exactly the kind of environmental prevention efforts** that can help lower those rates.

**”Prevention aimed at the environment is based on the community systems perspective that views a community as a set of persons engaged in shared social, cultural, political, and economic processes.” [http://wch.uhs.wisc.edu/docs/SIG/fisher-EnvironmentalPreventionStrategies.pdf] Environmental prevention basically looks to change the context that youth live in to support their healthy choices.


  1. These statistics are clearly biased. This organization is designed to prevent under-age drinking. Therefore, any results that they post will obviously favor the idea that a lower drinking age causes problems.

  2. Hi, Anonymous. Thanks for your comment. It’s a fair point that we will highlight studies that support our cause, but that doesn't change what the study shows. We did not fund or conduct this study, nor were we involved in its creation in any way. I simply reported the outcome.

    We try hard to be evidence-based in all of our work, and that includes reading lots of studies by lots of different organizations. Truly, I haven’t yet read a published, peer-reviewed study that shows that a lower drinking age reduces alcohol-related problems for young people—and I do a *lot* of reading and research about this particular subject. If you can suggest one I’d be very interested in reading it.

  3. these are the most biased "statistics" i've ever seen. the city of portland maine has a population of about 62,875 while the entire province of manitoba is about 1,119,583. you can't even say that the sample sizes can provide an accurate comparison. and when you compare the amount of teenagers that binge drink within 30 days in manitoba verses the 14 days of potland, of course it will be a lower number due to the inconsistent trial period.
    and most of the 12th graders that binge drink in manitoba are doing so legally, while all those in portland are drinking illegally.
    these are not accurate numbers for one to asses the impact even begin to asses the effects of the lower drinking age of manitoba.

  4. @Anonymous: These are some excellent cautionary points about the misuse of statistics, and I appreciate your clarifications. However, I respectfully disagree about your conclusion. While we clearly can’t draw exact parallels between the two studies, I think that what they illustrate is still relevant. Thanks for your feedback!

  5. @ Jen: Could you clarify how this information is relevant when the numbers are so off?
    The immense difference in your sample sizes discredits the points you're trying to prove.
    Your study would be so much stronger and hold a lot more credibility if you compared two similar sized areas within the same time line and during the same amount of time.
    You need to have the same constant variables for you to make an accurate conclusion.

  6. @Anonymous: In an effort to be clear, I did indicate the different labels, as you noticed--but that doesn't mean the data is irrelevent.

    Statistics with a high confidence interval can be generalized to the larger population, which is why *any* statistics can compare two groups that aren't exactly the same size.

    The Maine Office of Substance Abuse has some helpful information about using the MYDAUS data here: http://www.maine.gov/dhhs/osa/pubs/data/2007/HowToBro4.pdf, and you can also look at the technical data for the Manitoban survey above.