Duke It Out: Lower Drinking Age?
[It's pretty obvious that the average CollegeCandy reader has some very strong opinions. Opinions that she likes to share with everyone on the site. We love a strong woman, so we thought we'd give her a real forum to discuss her thoughts, feelings, and perspectives. Every Friday I'll be featuring a hot topic (like losing our summers!) and leaving it up to you, the readers, to duke it out. So, read it and get your debate on in the comments section below!]
Let’s be honest – no one (at least no one who wants hot, dirty sex) waits until they’re 21 to try an alcoholic beverage. Alcohol is so ubiquitous at high school and college parties that the red plastic cup is practically the official symbol of underage consumption. And yet, even in the face of this almost universal fact, the legal drinking age in America continues to be 21 (as if we didn’t have enough problems getting our hooch!).
Now that the Amethyst Initiative - a group of over 135 US college and university presidents who want the drinking age lowered - is making the rounds, the debate has gotten even hotter – and since we’re the ones it really effects, it seems like it’s time we weighed in!
Believe it or not, there is an argument for keeping the drinking age where it is, and it’s even annoyingly legit. One of the biggest points is safety – The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that setting the drinking age at 21 has saved more than 25,000 lives since 1975 (about 900 underage drivers a year). Admittedly an impressive statistic, and since no one I know of is pro-car accident, it’s hard to argue against that point. I’ll also give them the fact that in the ’70s, when some states lowered drinking ages, car accidents went up dramatically.
Proponents of the current law also say that students of campuses or states that more forcefully restrict alcohol are less prone to binge drinking, one of the serious problems with underage consumption. And studies have shown that the younger you start drinking, the more likely you are to develop long term health problems like brain damage and substance abuse issues (which explains why I can never remember where I put my keys).
The truth is, most of the arguments against lowering the drinking age are based on the principal that younger people make poorer choices – and I’m not saying we don’t make bad decisions (like my hair, circa 2005 ) – most drinkers do their heaviest, most irresponsible drinking when they’re underage.
However, this is where we come to the big crux of the problem for many: in the US, we’re considered adults at 18 – we can buy tobacco products, own guns, get married, make all our own legal decisions and even choose to die for our country if it comes down to it. We are guaranteed these rights by our country, and yet this same government tells us we aren’t good enough at making decisions to handle alcohol. It’s a back assward stance, any way you slice it. But beyond my general annoyance at being told my decisions are crappy, there are also good reasons for lowering the drinking age beyond the legal mixed-messages.
Remember how those in favor of the current 21 law were saying that binge drinking is lower because of the law? Well according to studies, “among college-age males, binge drinking is unchanged from its levels of 1979; that among non-college women it has increased by 20 percent; and that among college women it has increased by 40 percent.” And while the number of accidents went up in the ’70s when the drinking age was lowered, this was also a time before airbags and mandatory seat-belts and the after school specials that drilled “don’t drink and drive” into our brains – all things that just weren’t there almost forty years ago. And many say that real problem today is not road safety anyway: it’s binge drinking - something that can only be solved by education.
Do you think that lowering the drinking age would help? Or would it just make things worse? Are we just to debaucherously into our booze? Or should it be a question of something other than age, like alcohol education?