The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) has declared underage drinking a major health problem — but the solution isn’t as simple as lowering the legal drinking age, says a new study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

Before the legal age was set to 21 in the 80s, some states had a minimum drinking age of 18. And Dr. Andrew Plunk, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, found that these states also had more high school dropouts. The number of dropouts was even higher among at-risk teens.

Plunk and his team learned this information when they analyzed two sources of data: The first source was a series of analyses obtained from the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series site for the 1990 and 2000 decennial censuses, and the second was a series of analyses from two national representative U.S.-based surveys, The National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiological Survey and the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. The data was measured only for those born between 1960 and 1969, which would put men and women in high school at the same the legal drinking age was changing, between 1978 and 1987, Time reported.

The results showed that lowering the drinking age had a great impact on underage high schools students. Seventeen-year-olds were more affected by their 18-year-old peers, which may be because 17 is an age students are about to graduate — “being legal is within grasp, but not quite,” Plunk told Time.

Beyond age, gender and ethnicity seemed to impact teens; there were more dropouts among “women, Blacks, and Hispanics, but overlapping confidence intervals did not suggest between-group differences.” Another at-risk group was children of parents with alcohol problems: Prior studies have shown “children of alcoholics are at greater risk for deviant behaviors than control offspring. Early onset of problematic behavior can affect later scholastic achievement in a number of ways, such as increased sensitivity to the environmental effects of a more permissive drinking age.”

Across the whole sample, Plunk saw a 3 percent increase in dropout rates and a 4 percent drop among at-risk groups. Time cited that if this correlation was applied to the 3.3 million students slated to graduate from high school this year, it would add up to 99,000 dropouts.

That said, Plunk is hesitant to solely blame the lowered drinking age for the increase dropout rate. There are a number of external environmental factors to consider, though the study does conclude that “small differences in relative odds can take on practical importance.”

So, why is it that we tend to hear that in Europe, where men and women more often than not have their first drink at an early age, have a healthier relationship with alcohol? Well, it’s a myth that won’t die, Plunk told Medical Daily in an email. He said that previous, separate research has shown European youth do have their share of alcohol-related problems.

“For example, in 1990, France and Italy had higher per capita alcohol consumption and higher rates of cirrhosis deaths than in the U.S. Per capita consumption in France and Italy was 12.7 and 8.7 liters of alcohol, respectively, compared with 7.5 in the U.S.,” Plunk cited. “Cirrhosis death rates in France and Italy were 26.8 and 17 per 100,000, respectively, whereas the U.S. rate was 11.6. European countries are now looking to the U.S. for research and experience regarding the [drinking] age policy.”

The truth is, much more research needs to be done on the problem that is underage drinking; no one country has set the gold standard for consumption. The CDC said that when it comes to better protecting youths from the harmful dangers of alcohol misuse, it will require community-based efforts to monitor the activities of youth and decrease youth access to alcohol, which likely will go beyond the legal drinking age laws. Additional strategies could include national media campaigns, increasing alcohol excise taxes, reducing youth exposure, and development of comprehensive community-based programs.

Source: Plunk AD, Agrawal A, Tate WF, Cavazos-Rehg P, Bierut LJ, Grucza RA. Did the 18 drinking age promote high school dropout? Implications for current policy. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. 2015.