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"21 for 21" - A College Binge Ritual With Deadly Consequences

Posted By Regan Zambri Long, PLLC || 20-Jun-2008

It’s called "21 for 21" — college students knock back 21 alcoholic drinks on their 21st birthday, jeopardizing their health and their lives. The deadly effects of the drinking ritual are the subject of new research conducted at the University of Missouri, and recently published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

According to the study results, women engage in the activity as often as men. Although the study didn’t look at the health effects of such behavior, deaths have been reported.

To arrive at their data, researchers sampled 2,518 students, all of whom had already turned 21, at the University of Missouri in Columbia. Eighty-three percent of the students said they’d consumed alcohol to celebrate their 21st birthday, and many said they had consumed excessive amounts. Only 12% of men and women reported consuming exactly 21 drinks. An additional 22% of males and 12% of females reported drinking more than 21 drinks.

Authors of the study estimated that 49% of the male and 35% of the female participants had estimated blood alcohol contents of 0.26 or higher — a level that could cause serious health problems such as disorientation, coma and death. An average woman would have to drink between 7 and 9 drinks an hour to attain a blood alcohol content of 0.26, and an average man would have to drink between 10 and 12 drinks.

Ordinarily, people are somewhat protected from alcohol poisoning because the body passes out before getting too drunk to survive. In the "21 for 21" game, however, a person keeps his or her mouth open and keeps consuming more and more alcohol to override the tendency to pass out first.

Some interventions for the problem already exist, such as the "birthday card" — a card sent out prior to a student’s 21st birthday, including information on blood alcohol content. Reports on the effectiveness of the birthday card have been mixed, according to researchers.

Previously on the DC Metro Area Personal Injury Law Blog, we have posted articles related to:

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