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College students not alone in dangerous drinking
Updated: 2005-12-25 15:05

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Though getting drunk is often seen as a traditional college pastime, other young adults, particularly men, have similarly high rates of potentially hazardous drinking, new research shows.

In a study of nearly 2,000 young adults who'd been followed since high school, researchers found that by the age of 24, both college graduates and those with no more than a high school diploma had comparably high rates of heavy drinking.

In general, men and women with only a high school education drank more heavily in 12th grade and maintained the habit through early adulthood. College graduates, on the other hand, tended to drink less in high school but "caught up" during college.

Though drinking on college campuses has garnered much attention, it's clear that risky drinking is a problem among all young adults, the study authors report in the medical journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

"These results emphasize the need to intervene early to prevent at-risk alcohol use," write Dr. C. Raymond Bingham and his colleagues at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

What's more, they add, the study shows that risky drinking "is neither unique, nor necessarily the highest among individuals who complete college."

Overall, men who finished college had the biggest increase in drinking between 12th grade and the age of 24 -- boosting their drinking more than women did, and more than men with less education.

Women with a college degree also began to drink more heavily and get drunk more often after high school -- though, by the age of 24, they had merely "caught up" with women with less education, and their upturn in drinking during college was actually on the decline.

Women who attended high school only tended to have higher rates of drinking in 12th grade, but their drinking either held steady or began to taper off as they got older.

Men, on the other hand, did not show a reversal of their college, or high school, drinking habits. College graduates had the highest rates of drunkenness, binge drinking and drunk driving at the age of 24, though other men were not lagging much.

In fact, the researchers note, men with only a high school education appeared most at-risk, since their heavy drinking began in high school and continued or increased as they grew older.

"This pattern of alcohol-related risk reinforces the need for early intervention to prevent alcohol misuse in high school," the researchers conclude, "and this need is especially great for students who are not likely to complete college."

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