Minimum-age drinking laws and youth suicide, 1970-1990

Am J Public Health. 1999 Sep;89(9):1365-8. doi: 10.2105/ajph.89.9.1365.


Objectives: This study examined the association between the minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) and suicides among youths aged 18 to 20 years.

Methods: The study used pooled cross-sectional time-series data on youth suicide and the MLDA for the 48 contiguous states in the United States from 1970 to 1990. Poisson regression was used to estimate the association between MLDA and youth suicide.

Results: A significant association exists between MLDA and youth suicide. Between 1970 and 1990, the suicide rate of 18- to 20-year-old youths living in states with an 18-year MLDA was 8% higher than the suicide rate among 18- to 20-year-old youths in states with a 21-year MLDA (P < .01).

Conclusions: MLDA is associated not only with the motor-vehicle death rate among youths but also with the rate of youth suicide. We estimate that lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18 years in all states could increase the number of suicides in the 18- to 20-year-old population by approximately 125 each year.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic / mortality
  • Accidents, Traffic / statistics & numerical data
  • Accidents, Traffic / trends
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Age Factors
  • Alcohol Drinking / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Alcohol Drinking / trends*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • Population Surveillance
  • Regression Analysis
  • Risk Factors
  • Suicide / statistics & numerical data*
  • Suicide / trends*
  • United States / epidemiology