Reviving the Underaged Drinking Debate

by Suzie Raven

At eighteen, we become adults. We can live on our own. We can go to jail for life if we’re found guilty of a serious crime. We can find a job in healthcare, where we are responsible for someone else’s well being, or in a place where we operate dangerous machinery every day. We can go to college, taking on difficult courses and loads of debt. We can join the military, risking our lives for our county.

But we can’t have a glass of wine with dinner.

A group of 130 university presidents and chancellors have reopened the debate on lowering the national drinking age to 18. Their movement, called the Amethyst Initiative, wants to spark debate because there is a “culture of dangerous binge drinking” among underage college students. It worked. Almost every day, another college or city newspaper publishes their opinion.

The Sonoma Star of California’s Sonoma University points out that at 18, we can sign a contract, buy cigarettes and get married, and therefore, should be allowed to drink. The New York Times, on the other hand, claims there is no evidence that lowering the age would reduce binge drinking. They also offer nothing to show that college kids engage in less binge drinking since the legal age was raised from 18 to 21 in 1984. If raising the legal age didn’t help, then why are we sticking to it?

By raising debate on an issue that affects their students, these university leaders are doing their job. They’re also raising a good point that will hopefully lead to change. The legal drinking age of 21 is obviously not keeping college students from drinking, so it’s time we think of other ways to curb the affects of dangerous binging. (Example: better public transportation is not only better for the environment and urban congestion, but would cut back on the number of people who die in drunk driving accidents.)

People who are under 21 aren’t going to stop drinking, just like adults of any age didn’t stop during prohibition. (Again, just one more reason why effective public transportation is a good idea.) But it’s about more than that. It’s about the fact that if someone is old enough to fight in a war, they are old enough to learn how to drink responsibly.

I would much rather give an 18 year-old a beer than an AK-47.

(Photo by Tym of Singapore via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)

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Jeff Siegel said...

The problem with the movement to lower the drinking age is not that lowering the drinking age is a bad idea. There are good arguments on both sides.

The problem is that the movement is being led by universities that care very little about the drinking age, but very much about lawsuits. There is a sense that they no longer think they can control underage drinking, so if it becomes legal, they're off the hook. It's difficult to justify that approach.

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