It’s Time to Get Rid of the Drinking Age

I had my first taste of alcohol on vacation with my parents when I was eight years old. We had just sat down to dinner at a restaurant in Rome, and the waiter came as usual to pour wine for my parents. To my surprise, he didn’t pass over my glass. As I looked at him, puzzled, he threw his hands up and exclaimed some Italian version of, “Well, why not?” My parents explained to me that, in Italy, children were allowed to drink wine. I shrugged, unaware of the political and moral controversies, and took a sip.

My most recent experience with alcohol was accompanying my boyfriend to the package store as he legally bought his first bottle of wine. Though he was well past the drafting age, he was nevertheless “underage” when it came to drinking. As we roamed through the aisles, we couldn’t help laughing at both the excitement and absurdity of this 21-year-old rite of passage.

Unfortunately, the legal drinking age has only glorified the appeal of alcohol consumption and muddled our conception of what ought to be our boundaries, and who or what should be blamed when we cross them.

The truth is, alcohol is a blessing, and we should be careful where we place our blame when we abuse it. By faulting alcohol itself, we curse a beautiful gift, thus offending the Giver and denying the true source of the problem. Alcohol abuse isn’t an inherent consequence of alcohol, but rather a manifestation of our own tendency to sin. (Alcoholism is a physical and psychological ailment, and I don’t mean to take it lightly; the abuse I’m describing is carried out by those without such circumstances.) When we willingly drink to excess, we reject the natural law and the proper ordering of things, making a false god out of a created good. Along with its own inherent vice, drunkenness becomes a social crutch, an opening to addiction to both the circumstances surrounding it and to the alcohol itself, and an avenue for further foolishness. If we want to deal with the issue of alcohol abuse, we need to first address our own sinful natures before resorting to laws that create more problems than they solve.

There is a contradiction at the heart of the drinking age restriction. An 18-year-old can join the military to fight and possibly die for his country, but he can’t drink a beer to celebrate his send-off. One can get drug prescriptions — even an abortion — before the 21st birthday. Even a junior high school student can readily buy glue, scissors, insecticide, and cleaning detergent — all more potentially dangerous than alcohol. Nor is there any necessary reason to assume that a 13-year-old would exercise less temperance with alcohol than a 21-year-old. It depends entirely on which 13-year-old and which 21-year-old we’re talking about.

By tossing open the gates to inebriation at a time when young adults are away from parental guidance, the drinking age restriction actually undercuts the important socialization that leads to the mature use of alcohol. I have countless peers whose parents did not allow them to drink “until college,” or their 21st birthdays. Now, cut loose in an environment not known for moderation, many of those kids are spending their Friday nights passed out. This was entirely predictable. The law, in its current state of loose implementation, allows for kids who would have been going wild already to take it to the next level with the invigorating sense of rebellion or “finally getting to have fun.”

 

Alcohol is neither a demon nor a god. I grew up drinking when my parents would drink (this is legal, by the way). Intoxication was not the goal — the idea never even entered my mind, since I never saw them using alcohol that way. I had been taught by example that alcohol was a nice additive to life, nothing more and nothing less.

Some argue that lowering or eliminating the drinking age would result in a surge of alcoholism, and suddenly the bars would be flush with hammered 18-year-olds. I hate to break it to the critics, but that’s already the case (hence the term “freshmen bar”). Most likely, the anticipated craziness following a drinking law repeal would die down after a few nights — a semester at most for the easier college majors. As for those young people who might drink too much, they are doing so already. Criminalizing a broad behavior just to eliminate its abuse misses the target. Would prohibiting sex get rid of sex offenders? Of course not. It would simply mean that only sex offenders would be having sex.

Prohibition turned drunkards into moonshiners, and we still haven’t learned. By scapegoating a healthy substance because of some individuals’ misuse of it, we both encourage the abuse and miss the real problem. Once we acknowledge the role of sin in all of this, we can begin to teach (by example, where possible) the virtue of moderation and learn to obey the Laws that matter most.

By

Elizabeth Hanna is a third year philosophy student at the University of Georgia.

  • Jonathan

    First off, great article! I’m a first-year college student (I don’t drink) and I can tell you that any sort of measure that will in any way help ameliorate the problem we see with many young people and their mishandling of alcohol now that they’re “free” and in college sounds good to me. Secondly, I was just wondering (because we’ve discussed this in my family), how would you feel if the drinking age were even lower than 18? Like say 16 or 14? I realize that that is setting the bar kind of low, but from my experience a good number of kids (at the small, Catholic high school I went to anyways) already start abusing alcohol to excess as early as sophomore year of high school. So I though maybe even 18 is a little too high. What are your thoughts??

  • digdigby

    Prohibition had a strong ‘anti-foreigner’ and anti-Catholic bias especially against the Italians, Irish and Poles, Bohemians and other immigrants. The result, of course, was the greatest alcoholic binge in world history. An alliance of liberal protestant ministers and spinsterish New England busy-bodies and their ‘purity’ crusades have reached their nightmarish. apotheosis in modern political correctness.

  • Elizabeth

    Hi Jonathan-
    Thanks for your thoughts. I am in complete agreement with you, and I would not only say that we should lower it, I would say get rid of it entirely. As I mentioned, so many other dangerous substances are available for purchase way before twenty one, and I don’t think it’s the government’s responsibility to monitor our consumption of these products. It’s our own and when we are young it is our parents. I think our problems all go back to a refusal of many parents, families, and communities to really teach children virtue early on. It is much easier to send them off to be dealt with at school and a foolish law which they probably aren’t going to care about following especially if they aren’t already following the laws of nature and God. So yes, I think it should be even more than lowered. It’s not the government’s buisness anyway and they are doing a terrible job of trying to make it so.

    Good luck at your school and keep fighting the good fight!

  • Anne

    Thank you for putting down on paper the logic behind an argument I’ve long held dear. The “21 to drink” mentality is unfair,misguided, obsolete, and in need of immediate obliteration. It warps the American “youth experience” by encouraging hedonism and overindulgence, and also by attacking personal freedom and fostering a general lack of fun. It is also unfair because it assumes all consumers of alcohol are the same. (E.g. myself, who at 16 had experienced healthy drinking at night clubs in Montevideo, Uruguay and then had to return to the United States and be grouped with all the unsophisticated, rural, Midwesterners who still oohed and aahed at a can of Budweiser and their ability to drink themselves in to a silly, buffoon-like state.)

    I particularly enjoyed the argument that the “21 to drink” law shifts blame from the sinner to an outside substance. I myself am a Catholic, but I had only heard the libertarian argument against a drinking age and never the Catholic argument. Does anyone know if the drinking age is up for debate in the House or Senate? If not, is there a way we can realistically push for a bill proposing the elimination (or at least the reduction) of a legal drinking age to be introduced?

  • Baron Korf

    A keen insight my “Germanic Folklore”/”Norse Mythology” professor shared with us was the relationship of the word adult to vices. In many cultures in history, becoming an adult (and that usually coincides with obtaining your majority, but I digress) meant you gained adult responsibilities and privileges. In our culture being an “adult” includes such privileges as porn, alcohol, and gambling. The former two are referred to as Adult items (Adult Entertainment, Adult Beverages). Sure, we have retained many of the good things like marriage, owning property, weapons, etc, but we rarely call these adult institutions. Our common language basically states that to be an adult is to be a drunken, lecherous gambler. Is it a coincidence that Las Vegas is sometimes referred to as the Grown-up’s Disney World?

  • Peter Freeman

    I don’t have strong feelings one way or another on this topic since it isn’t really a moral issue. If society wants to lower or raise the drinking age, that’s ultimately a matter of taste in social reform and beverages.

    I would point out that this article makes quite a few associations between the abuse of alcohol and college education…and my suspicion is that college is the real culprit.

    I have personally heard college administrators explain that alcohol policies are not enforced on campus because administrators find our laws absurd. That’s social activism, and it sends a confusing message to students.

    Is it really that alcohol becomes a forbidden fruit, or that college culture is a serpent?

    It’s a pretty old serpent at that. There is a long-standing symbiotic relationship between secular universities and local ale-houses.

    Lowering the drinking age probably won’t improve the situation; it will most likely just mean we are more honest about letting our kids abuse alcohol.

    But, of course, the best we can do is conjecture. We’ll need actual social experimentation to find out which scenario yields the higher numbers of alcohol-related deaths and sexual assault.

  • Nick Palmer

    As a mid-50s recovering alcoholic, and a father of three (24, 22, 17) I’m conflicted. I’ve also watched as my 22-year-old son spent four years attending university in Scotland with a drinking age of 18, and that rarely enforced. Without taking a firm position (how “Obama” of me, ugh!), let me toss out a few thoughts:

    1) As Ms. Hanna rightly notes, decreasing the drinking age would not, IMHO, appreciably increase the number of alcoholics. Alcoholism is a disease, and alcohol is available almost everywhere. The alcoholic/addict will get his opportunity. While many alcoholics start young, many don’t, and many other people start young and never end up as alcoholics.

    2) That said, I think that the author’s “military,” “abortion,” and “scissors” points are specious. Military service timing (there is no draft) is driven by a combination of our education system (HS graduation) and physical maturity. Proper enjoyment of alcohol is driven more by emotional/spiritual maturity. I’ve heard this argument for years, and actually grew up with the drinking age at 18; it doesn’t hold water for me. As for abortion, it’s just wrong — any time, any place, at any age. If I were convinced that 18 is too young for drinking (which I am NOT), I could contend that “two wrongs don’t make a right.” Finally, as to scissors, alcohol is manifestly different, and poses a different set of risks beyond those to the individual. Yet, I’m still not ready to say 18 is wrong, I just don’t accept these arguments.

    3) Let’s divide people into three groups: alcoholics for sure, not alcoholics for sure (I’m married to one), and “maybes.” Now ask, what are the purposes of restrictions on drinking age? Protect the drinker? Protect others from harm caused by the drinker? Probably at least some of each. Now many of my high-school and college friends drank abusively, drove drunk, and did lots of stupid things that endangered them and others. So did I. Most of those friends matured into responsible drinkers and responsible adults. Some became alcoholics. Several of those are dead through suicide and accident. Today, through the grace of God and 12-Steps I have a sober, happy life. If you accept my premise that “potential” alcoholics will find a way to realize their “ambition,” changing the drinking age won’t affect them too much (see #4 below). So, the principal impact will be the non-alcoholic and the maybe. Here the goal seems to be to prevent immature drinking behavior from doing “damage” and, perhaps, to do a better job of teaching responsible drinking.

    3a) For the non-alcoholic the goal is to prevent pre-adult stupidity from doing harm.

    3b) For the “maybe” the no harm goal remains, and PERHAPS we can add a goal of preventing pushing the maybe into the alcoholic category (IF this is possible, I simply don’t know).

    4) One possible benefit for the actual alcoholic might be reduced stigma for his disease, and an easier glide into a recovery program. Here, I can’t be sure. There are certainly a lot of 18-25-year olds in recovery programs today, which is a constant source of joy for me. Whatever we can do to get help for these folks, and to get their lives on track, is a Godsend.

    Okay, I’m rambling now. I hope that some of my thoughts at least provoke y’all and move the discussion forward. I don’t know what would have gotten me sober sooner, nor do I know how I might have saved those close to me whom I’ve lost. And, I want to be fair to those who don’t suffer this disease. Alcohol is, as Ms. Hanna notes, a gift of God to man. I have no problem with alcohol for those who don’t suffer my disease. They should be able to enjoy this gift, at the right time and place…

  • Elizabeth

    Peter-
    Thank you for your comment. I would argue, however, that college is largely the way it is because of the drinking age (more importantly the mentality behind the drinking age,) and not vice versa. Around college lies a general assumption that it ought to be a time of excused hedonism, uncriticized by and overlooked by parents, professors, church and school communities, and the community at large– primarily because it is the first time that we are “adults,” and that is understood to mean “able to do whatever I want to do.” I agree entirely with Baron that we have created a situation where “adulthood” and particularly the transition into it, is thought to be a letting go of moderation (there are no more “rules”) and embracing selfish pursuits. This is intensified by, and intensifies, the problems with the drinking age in that kids end up associating alcohol (which is an inherently good or neutral substance) with being “grown up.” We have done the same with sex in calling it “dirty.” We don’t want to explain to kids it’s beauty, so we shy away from saying anything. When they get to college, or are let loose in whatever fashion they may be, they tend to run wild with a demonized twist of the Gift. It is assumed then that a 21-year-old “ought” to go to Las Vegas as a sort of rite of passage, when in reality, the true rite of passage ought to be marriage, family, etc. These things instead are looked at as later-on, for “after I have already had fun.” In fact, marriage, family, seminary– they tend to be looked DOWN upon as mistakes if done in the early twenties, whereas drunkenness or premarital sex is seen as normal and expected. The drinking age has, again, only placed blame on that which is not at fault, confusing tender young minds about the true nature of alcohol, sin, and what it truly means to “grow up.” The solution, I believe, lies on the parents’ shoulders. The big public, secular universities aren’t going to change much. Parents need to strongly communicate and teach by example. Whether that means allowing a child to be at their “adult” party (most kids are shoved away to a babysitter,) or letting them have a sip of wine at dinner, parents must make it clear very early on what it means to be an adult.

  • Matthew McMillan

    American teens drive cars. European teens generally do not. Automobile ownership and operation is simply too expensive in other parts of the world. The 21-year drinking age was pushed onto states through federal highway funding legislation.

    In recent years we have seen an increase in traffic fatalities as a result of cell phone use, whether voice, text, or email. Adding alcohol to the blood of young driver’s will not make the roads safer. The thought of inexperienced, even-mildly intoxicated, drivers texting while driving is scary.

    I support a reduction of the drinking age to 18 because I believe that the status quo teaches young people that it is acceptable to lie. That lesson is bad for society. Lies destroy trust. Unfortunately, drinking and driving destroys lives.

    Part of the problem is that too many people continue to view college students as irresponsible children incapable of being responsible. Therefore we refrain from punishing the young. Instead, perhaps we should show a little less mercy and hold young adults to a higher standard. After all, they are young. They can learn a lesson and recover from a DUI conviction or college suspension in time.

    I would like to see some sort of compromise. Maybe a drinking license?

    In the longer view, I do not seeing the problem being resolved until there is significant change to our system of higher education before we see a change in college culture.

  • Rob Kirby

    When I teach freshman classes (granted, it’s math at a Large Public University), I typically get low attendance rates, lots of missed assignments, and many lame excuses. I choose to operate under the assumption that my students are i.) adults and ii.) adequately prepared for university-level coursework. I’m sure lots of students are abusing alcohol, video games, whatever. I probably wouldn’t notice a change in my next freshman class if the drinking age were 18. I might prefer 16 so the novelty has worn off before the get to me. But beer is not the issue; too many in our culture are obsessed with entitlement and self-fulfillment over the moral order and pursuit of virtue.

    I didn’t drink until I was 21 because God doesn’t command me to drink (except on Sundays) and doesn’t let me break laws simply because I think they’re silly. But I would welcome a saner approach to alcohol regulation would hope my children (now 3,6, and 9 and occasional home-brewing assistants) would respond responsibly.

  • Peter Freeman

    Matthew — your argument about drunk driving goes directly to the precise narrative I usually hear around the academia regarding the drinking age. Typically, the narrative blames Ronald Reagan for causing the mess. States were strong armed into raising the drinking age as a means to reduce drunk driving deaths. Cars are, I think, actually key to the conversation. Cars…and perhaps co-education, since most victims of alcohol abuse on campus are probably women.

    Elizabeth — I guess the question becomes whether we would lower the drinking age simply on principle or because we think it will reduce alcohol-related injuries? If the latter, then what are the thresholds of tolerance? Is there ever a point where alcohol-related injuries among an age-group demands that we regulate alcohol?

    I’m not convinced that reducing the drinking age has really been the primary factor leading to American alcohol abuse. Are American college students are really all that different now than they were in the decades before so many states moved to the current drinking age? The cartoon rendition of college life in Animal House comes to mind. It is hyperbolic, but surely there is some truth to its humor. That film was made in 1978…six years before the national push to make the drinking age 21.

    And even if alcohol abuse on campuses is worse now than it was in the 70s, there are other factors besides for the drinking age that could contribute to it, such as stress, failing economies, increase in residences, etc….and, of course, movies like Animal House.

    Like Nick, though, I’m ambivalent on this issue. I understand the rational, philosophical arguments for why the law is contradictory and absurd. But I also understand why we’d ask questions like, “Why would you sell a case of beer to a sixteen year old?” after said sixteen year old does something horrible while drunk.

  • Nick

    The drinking age, age of consent, and age of viewing mature content (R-rated movies, pornography, etc.), are moral and prudent, for they exist for the good of children and to curb evils, such as drunkenness, rape, and masturbation.

    These laws do not glorify evil any more than the Commandments glorify mortal sins. The behavior of certain individuals does not destroy the morality of moral laws, any more than the “deafness” of psychos destroys the Natural Moral Law in his heart.

    Hypothetical situations cannot be used in the place of evidence, for it is upon evidence that the three laws are based. They could be used to make a point, but not as evidence.

    Fallacies cannot be used to support the doing away of evils, for fallacies are illogical arguments, which are contrary to the Truth – even if not too many people know what they are.

    Do not become overly political: Unless you apply the faith, you will be swept away by the waves of the world, by the winds of the world, and by the moths which eat your heart: I.e., movements, ideologies, and sins.

    It is faith that alcohol is a grace, the fruit of the earth and work of human hands; that drinking is not drunkenness, for drunkenness is a form of gluttony; that drunkenness is thus a sin; that morality is from the Good Lord; that the Selfsame give man the Natural Moral Law and the moral virtues; that prudence, the greatest virtue, must be exercised in the political community; and that faith must be applied to the political community.

  • Cathy

    I think the laws against drinking are more about money and control than they are about public safety. My nephew completed a diversion course, guess what, if an underage intoxicated person is given a ride home by a sober friend or an adult, and you are pulled over, you will face fines and charges in a court of law. I’m trying to understand the safety logic in this. If the purpose of the law is tied to public safety in regards to keeping drunk drivers off the streets, then is it irresponsible to drive a drunk person, regardless of age, home?

  • Dave

    A most excellent essay and to the point. As a former Vietnam era veteran, I was often faced with being in a military uniform and not allowed to purchase alcohol
    at that time the various states also had various age restrictions on their respective drinking ages. And at that time WE HAD A MILITARY DRAFT, we also could not vote that age was also 21. Imagine how a goodly portion of us felt, we could put on a uniform for our gov’t… Same holds true as we revert to obsolete social mores. Upon going overseas courtesy of the US Army imagine my surprise that in other countries as the author pointed out drinking ages were virtually non-existent.. As for alcoholism being a disease?? that is still much of a debate in the recovery therapy field.

  • bt

    My parents always allowed us small amounts of alcohol as kids. When my Dad had a beer, we would often get a whiskey jigger of it ourselves. At a certain age, we were allowed small glasses of wine when company was over for dinner. I think it is because of this that I never participated in the drinking scene later on.

  • Jacob

    One way to solve the high school drop driving problem, especially around graduation time, would be to rise the driving age OR do something which I find more helpful, which would be to change the drinking age to 19 or with a college ID, for those who are 18. There are many ways to deal with all of this.

  • Moss Wilson

    Thanks for the great article, Elizibeth. I’m reading this from Australia, where the drinking age is 18. It seems logical enough to most Aussies; as you point out, at age 18 many other ‘adult’ activities such driving and joining the army kick in around this age.

    The results are mixed. Teenagers turning 18 do go and get drunk, and some fall into alcoholism. Alcohol abuse is a leading cause of car crashes. This problem is especially rampant in remote settlements where there are fewer oppurtunities. At the moment there is a major news story in central Australia where children are introduced to alcohol as early as 12-13 and have their young lives destroyed as a result.

    On the plus side, an 18 drinking age allows parents to responsibly introduce drinking to their children (as happened to me). This degree of control and guidance is likley not as effective for in independant 21 year old.

    So I would absolutely agree with a 18 year old drinking age but it isn’t a magic bullet. As you have pointed out in your article, the solution is good parenting.

  • Fr. Beres

    While I agree that the law of 21 is not achieving the goals for which it was instituted and most likely needs to be changed, an important thing to realize is that our culture as a whole needs changing. Parents would have to take the time to properly introduce their children to alcohol. Broken families, dual full time working parents, day care, after school care … all these things which are rampant in our current culture means parents aren’t raising their children. We see this in the high rate of teen sex and drug use. Elizabeth is correct, but the problem she points to is only part of a much larger disaster.

  • Audrey

    Well written and thoughtful article. Thanks also Fr. Beres who obviously knows what he’s talking about, as does Prof. Kirby.

    I think the first and best line of defense against alcohol abuse is the family. A loving, committed marriage between a man and a woman who are dedicated to raising their children in virtue and self-discipline is the healthiest environment for children. There is no substitute for the time that is absolutely necessary to raise one’s children. We currently see the result of too many people who are so busy racing after their own goals and ambitions that their children are essentially left to raise themselves. Children are not equipped to raise themselves and will seek guidance and belonging wherever they can.

    To say that “most” families “need” two incomes is short of truthful: they may FEEL that they need both incomes to HAVE what they WANT, but it is absolutely possible to raise children and live in a decent, simple way on one income. My husband and I have done this, raising two sons and one daughter on just his income.

    I pray young people will realize what is real and truly important – love of God and the Church, and healthy, rightly ordered relationships.

  • Reader

    Good article Elizabeth. I think the drinking age is not the solution to the alcohol abuse problem in the United States. In my own experiences, it has increased appeal for alcohol abuse. It should be up to the families, teachers, priests to instruct young men and women in moral standards and boundaries, not an arbitrary government law.
    You are a great writer and I look forward to seeing more of your work on this site.

  • Wolfgang G.

    As a professor who is in daily contact with large numbers of college students, but also as a person who lays claim to common sense, I must say: Elizebeth, you are right on target! Prohibition of those little pleasures that sweeten life and do not violate any moral law is a deeply Calvinistic attitude. It isn’t Catholic, and there is no precedence for it in Catholic culture. I was brought up in Europe sipping just a few drops of wine with dinner when I was 12. I learned to appreciate wine as a part of celebrations and of the community of family and friends. I have never felt the urge to get drunk and in fact never have. There is less alcoholism among young people (and no repugnant beer bong) where “soft” alcohol like beer, wine, and hard cider, is tolerated for young people. I would still keep an age limit of 16 or 18 for liquor. To see this as a slippery slope towards indulging sexual debauchery is a Calvinistic argument alien to the Catholic spirit. Were young people of previous generations, in fact everybody until the 1980s in the United States and everybody elsewhere until today, filthy pigs because they drank and drink wine with meals? Hardly. Fight on for your cause, Elizabeth. My prayers will be with you.

  • Erin

    For 2 years I worked with middle and high school students that were either abusing alcohol and drugs themselves or had a loved one doing so. Many of these kids that abused alcohol and drugs themselves started very young and their immature brains couldn’t handle it. Therefore, they had to use more to get a better high. If their parents let them use at home, they felt they could use anywhere and use as much as they wanted it. It caused many problems personally and for their school and community. Unfortunately, in our society, suggestions don’t work so we need laws. The culture of our universities need to change, they breed alcohol abuse and irresponsibility.
    Please educate yourself, Elizabeth.
    http://www.cspinet.org/booze/mlpafact.htm

  • Amy

    Elizabeth points out very clearly that she is not referring to individuals who are abusing alcohol. As the mother four, including a college age daughter, I can confidently say that the key to raising children with a healthy attitude toward alcohol is to actually raise them!

  • Justin

    As a Catholic I believe life begins at conception…so I can drink 9 months prior to my 21st birthday, right? Yes absolutly….PLEASE get rid of the drinking age…everything depends on circumstances and intent. Waht were teh circumstances of passing teh drinking age of 21 law, that the states woudl not get their Highway funding..the intent was purly for money. The state and gov’t will always say it is for our “safety” as an excuse ot pass teh most rediculous laws…just as the gov’t says that abortion is a “woman’s choice”….why would be believe anythign the government sayas as accurate..they have been decieving us for decades and I don’t see it stopping.

  • Mother of Two Sons

    The problem is clearly not the legal drinking age because youth have and will continue to drink despite laws…. that is what they do, break laws! The purpose of the law is to protect and defend the safety of individuals. It is the high rate of deaths caused by drunk-driving youth that inspired that law.
    Car Insurance companies and the latest MRI brain research now cooberate that individuals between the ages of 16 – 25 are a safety liability due to, now we fully understand, incomplete brain development. Though there is a clear spectrum which places some young women fully developed by 17 and most young men fully developed by 24, the research clearly supports the 21 drinking age. Teaching this knew information to young people about their inability to control their impulses, the easy manipulation to do wrong when they are with a group of their friends (when they are usually a good kid), the lack of discretion and irritable outbursts…. it seems to me that even when we have scientific evidence to explain “Teenager Rebellious Behavior” we still want to assign it to an outside cause!
    I do believe the TV, Movies and Advertising standards have clearly elevated SIN to an all time HIGH…. I fault the adults in our society for letting the standards slip in the last 30 years. I am in Henderson, NV and the Spring Break adds to underage college students (mostly girls) is despicable…. and I thought it would be illegal…. but this IS VEGAS, after all!
    Spring Break as a fad….. is another unbelievably irresponsible activity that requires parents to fund and authorize?
    I say don’t change the drinking age; it cannot be proven to improve on our current situation and this is no time for experiments. Our young people need as much help to learn how to enjoy and get the most out of Life; alcohol + an as yet fully developed brain = high probability of harm.

    I am happy that the practice of early familial alcohol introduction to Elizabeth resulted in excellent judgement on her part, but the facts do not support her recommendation to extend her family practice onto everyone else.

  • Elizabeth

    Mother of Two Sons-

    Thank you for your input. Your point is understandable and appreciated– we cannot know for sure that changing the drinking age would cause more good than harm, and considering the state of adolescent and early adult culture, how might we ever believe that kids could use alcohol responsibly? But I would still object. First of all, we can compare our youth to the youth in Europe as a clear example of the effect of a drinking age or lack thereof. The American culture (particularly college culture,) has serious problems with binge drinking and alcohol abuse, the problems with this in Europe do not even compare. This is an American problem– a cultural problem– not a problem with alcohol. The conclusion that “alcohol + an as yet fully developed brain = high probability of harm” can be applied to so many countless situations. I could easily substitute “freedom,” “interaction with people of the opposite sex,” “driving,” “being left home alone,” “going to college,” etc. in for “alcohol” and “high probability of harm” would remain after the equals sign. Thus I continue to reiterate that the reason for the alcohol problem among young adults and teenagers is due to a lack of guidance and a permissive attitude towards selfish and hedonistic pursuits. The drinking age is merely a backwards form of sheltering through which we give and take freedoms and responsibilities, confusing the young brain as to whether or not he is an adult and whether or not he ought to act like one. I am in the college environment and I can say affirmatively that the kids who don’t abuse alcohol are the kids who have had some sort of positive guidance and/or have a character of discipline and virtue (not to say that those who abuse alcohol don’t have virtue, only that those who do have it usually are less likely to abuse.) It has nothing to do with the drinking age. If we want to protect eighteen year olds from a “high probability of harm” we ought not to send them to college at all and keep them at home safe until their brains are fully developed (if they indeed aren’t already.) Otherwise, a law isn’t going to deter anyone except the kids who already uphold the ideal of obeying laws, and thus uphold a moral character that would prevent them from abusing alcohol. The drinking age sends kids the wrong message. It tells them “you’re too young to make good decisions.” And if I am too young to make good decisions I ought to soak up the babying of the college environment, and refrain from worrying about my decisions. I warn parents about to send their kids to college– don’t send the wrong message. Either they’re adults or they aren’t. If they are, treat them like it. Give them the freedoms they deserve, and in turn, expect them to be responsible and reprimand them if they aren’t. Otherwise, you leave it up to a secular, hedonistic environment to raise them with a hardly enforced illogical law against merely ONE of the temptations that may befall them. What kind of culture tells kids that they can have rampant sex (as long as they use condoms,) and get drunk (as long as they’re twenty-one??) We can’t participate in this mentality. We have to be logical. Kids aren’t stupid and they pick up on illogical rules.

    You say, “youth have and will continue to drink despite laws…. that is what they do, break laws!” But this is not the natural state of youth. It is this assumption that permits kids to break laws. If we don’t expect more of kids, they’re not going to give more. From the standpoint of a college kid I can assuredly say that the most disheartening part of all of this college culture is the assumption of the parents that we are all participating, or all wish that we could. The truth is, I know many kids who would not participate if their parents wouldn’t expect them to (or often encourage them to.) Kids aren’t inherently evil-prone. Most of us want to be good. But how can we be, when nobody believes in us?

    There was a time long ago when kids grew up when they went through puberty. They learned some sort of skill or got married. They were treated as and expected to be adult members of society. Extended adolescence is a new phenomenon, and one that is doing everyone a disservice. I urge us to get back to our roots, and am confident that this is what will solve the drinking problem. It may not be something that can happen widespread, but like everything, it starts at home. Please, parents, if we’re in college, (really even younger than that,) we’re adults. So treat us like it. If science says that we aren’t adults, then we shouldn’t be on our own at all.

  • Pat

    A simple search of the web brings numerous studies comparing US vs European drinking patterns in young adults. Depending on the study and the date European binge drinking is 3-5 times binge drinking in the US. In fact the most exhaustive study on the subjext was published just last week. Earlier drinking is in fact directly linked statistically with binge drinking, not the other way around, Elizabeths anecdotes withstanding.

  • JMC

    I agree, we really do need to get rid of the drinking age altogether. Once again, we have to leave alcoholism out of the equation, since that’s a disease. Outside of that, those whose families allowed them to drink with them have a far lower rate of alcohol abuse as adults. I grew up in a family where one parent was an alcoholic, and the other was not. He drank occasionally at dinner; sometimes, when his friends came over, he drank heavily, but never to excess. I saw the man put away an entire bottle of rum on several occasions, but never once did I see him drunk. In this environment, I was allowed a shot-glass of wine on special occasions. Today, I drink occasionally, and never more than one.

    Is college a culprit in alcohol abuse? I would say definitely. The administration turns a blind eye to drunken frat parties; a college student who prefers not to drink is often pressured and even bullied by his peers to partake. But that atmosphere is only a relfection of that in society as a whole. Even adults sometimes pressure and bully others to drink who would rather not. Yes, if the drinking age were eliminated, things would go crazy, and it would last far longer than just a few days, especially in a society where parents don’t do their jobs. But I don’t know what the solution is.

  • P

    Another insightful and well written article by Elizabeth H! In my experience as an undergrad, the drinking problem is also due to condescending and contradicting expectations from winking adults after high school graduation to “loosen up a bit,” “start having fun,” and of course the ole, “Oh I know how that is,” nudge nudge whenever the word “college” is mentioned to an older Graduate. As if resisting intoxication on (and off) campus wasn’t tough enough, the temperate college student faces more pressure of immoral expectations from their respected adults too. It’s a shame.

  • Joe

    Great article!!! I have traveled Europe several times and I have to say that I agree with you. There is a much greater abuse here in America than in countries where the drinking age is much lower or non-existent.

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