Alcohol: Lowering the Drinking Age to 18

(Editor's Note: This is the first part of a short two-part series on the topic of the drinking age. To read the second installment, please go here.)

by Jeff Siegel

This is, oddly enough, one of the newest and most interesting approaches to fighting alcoholism. The theory, as propounded by a surprising number of experts, including some police as well as university presidents who are part of the Amethyst Initiative, says it may be the best way to fight an unprecedented wave of binge drinking and similar problems among college students. Take away the legal barrier, and you’ll take away a lot of the thrill and the incentive.

Or, as the police chief in Boulder, Colo., home to the hard-partying University of Colorado, told 60 Minutes: “The abuse of alcohol and the over-consumption of alcohol and DUI driving...are the areas we've got to focus our efforts. Not on chasing kids around trying to give them a ticket for having a cup of beer in their hand."

The drinking age issue, of course, is nothing new. It’s even not just about the drinking age anymore. In my part of the liquor world, where I write about wine, the dark forces that oppose more equitable laws that regulate wine distribution always play the underage drinking card to preserve their monopoly.

As Megan Haverkorn, the editor of the trade e-letter Wine & Spirits Daily wrote: “We believe the drinking age requirement at least deserves some dispassionate debate and research among policy makers. Whether it’s the right decision or not, the issue shouldn’t be squashed without giving it the attention it deserves.”

Having said all this, I don’t know the answer. On the one hand, I remember when the drinking age was 21 in Illinois, where I grew up, and 18 in neighboring Wisconsin. It was a rite of passage to hop in the car on your 18th birthday and drive across the state line to get liquored up. And if I did it, and I was a boring, responsible 18-year-old, you can imagine what everyone else did.

On the other hand, there is good evidence that underage drinking is out of control. The Amethyst group notes that “a culture of dangerous, clandestine ‘binge-drinking’ — often conducted off-campus — has developed. Alcohol education that mandates abstinence as the only legal option has not resulted in significant constructive behavioral change among our students.”

One of the most telling points on their side is that drinking bans tend to increase alcoholism. During Prohibition, the U.S. rate actually increased, and economists have discovered something called the Iron Law of Prohibition: The more intense the law enforcement, the more potent the prohibited substance becomes. Which sounds a lot like binge-drinking, doesn’t it?

*Jeff Siegel is also the author of the blog, The Wine Curmudgeon; this part of the series is adapted from a posting on that blog.

(To read the final part in the series, please go here. For other posts of a similar vein, please see "Reviving the Underaged Drinking Debate" and "Marijuana: The New Proposition.")

(Photo by swanksalot of Chicago, IL via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)

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Emmy said...

Living near a major university campus and seeing the legal 20-somethings in action on nearly a daily basis, I wholeheartedly believe that the drinking age should be raised somewhere way past 20-something. ;-) Yikes! The cops here have way too much to deal with. Don't think they even have time to police the underage drinking thing.

magicman0641 said...

Raising the drinking age again would simply force even more people into drinking alcohol in an unmanageable underground setting without the guidance of a responsible adult. The drinking age does not stop minors from drinking.

Anonymous said...

what? that doesn't make sense

dillydumass said...

one that makes no sence at all. it does not matter if they rase it their still going to drink and then the cops will have to dell with it even more. it people like you who make drinking sound so bad when in reality its really not as bad as you think you jest lisen and beleive what you here on the news when the news only focuses on the negitive

Michelle-Katherine said...

Im 17 and honestly, its way more of a thrill to drink and not get caught, if most teenagers are like me and like the thrill of going against the law, then I have a feeling that teenagers won't want to go out and binge drink and get totaly smashed, because there won't be the thrill of not getting caught.

Anonymous said...

i agree that lowering the drinking age will lower alcaholism in America, mainly because teens feel more of a rush from trying to hide the fact that they're underaged. So i believe that lowering the legal age is a smart move that our country should make.

Anonymous said...

i agree with everyone else

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