NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 18, 2005

Studies of teenagers suggest that heavy drinkers are more likely to be sexually active, more likely to have multiple partners, and less likely to use condoms. This risky behavior increases the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). A new paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that reducing heavy drinking among youth may slow the spread of STDs.

The authors analyzed the relationship between incidences of gonorrhea and the price of alcohol. Because beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage among youth, the authors used state excise taxes on beer to represent the price of alcohol. Their models also included the presence (or absence) of 0.08 and 0.10 blood alcohol concentration laws. The authors found that:

  • A 10 percent increase in the average state excise tax on beer will reduce the gonorrhea rate by 4.4 percent for boys ages 15 to 19 and by 3.7 percent for men aged 20 to 24.
  • Zero tolerance laws -- which typically set the maximum blood alcohol percentage at 0.02 for underage drinkers -- also reduce gonorrhea incidence by an estimated 7 to 8 percent in 15-19 year-old boys.

Other drunk-driving laws appear to have no effect; nor does living in a dry county. Nevertheless, the authors believe that increasing the excise tax on beer is effective in combating the transmission of STDs, including AIDS. They estimate that:

  • A 10 percent increase in the average state excise tax on beer will reduce AIDS rates by a range of 5.1 to 8.5 percent among young males.
  • The magnitude of the effect falls to a range of 3.2 to 6.4 percent for older males.
  • The opposite pattern holds true for female AIDS rates, where a bigger response is expected for older females.

Source: Linda Gorman, "Alcohol Policies and Sexually Transmitted Disease Among Youth," NBER Digest, July 2005; based upon: Michael Grossman, Robert Kaestner and Sara Markowitz, "An Investigation of the Effects of Alcohol Policies on Youth STDs," National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper No. 10949, December 2004.

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