The Amethyst Initiative, founded by John McCardell, President Emeritus of Middlebury College and founder of a group called Choose Responsibility, calls for a national debate on lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18 and has more than 100 college presidents signed on. Presidents of Lewis & Clark, Pacific University, and Willamette University are among them.
McCardell has been an ardent supporter of lowering the drinking age, and although he calls for a “debate,” his views are clearly known.
The flawed rationale behind the initiative is that if the drinking age is lowered, fewer college students would drink, we wouldn’t have the problems with alcohol on college campuses, and that colleges would have more control over campus drinking.
The backers also say that lowering the drinking age would result in more students drinking in campus pubs as opposed to areas where there is no authority, such as dorm rooms and frat houses.
DO WE THINK THIS IS A GOOD IDEA?
No! It’s a terrible idea with horrendous implications. Every one of their arguments is flawed. There isn’t a shred of evidence that any of the arguments would achieve desired results!
Every national alcohol and drug prevention group – including MADD, CSPI, CADCA and others – strongly oppose the initiative, saying that the facts are clear: The current drinking age is a good thing that saves thousands of lives a year. Lowering it would cause a myriad of problems, not the least of which include more teens drinking, more deaths on the highways, and more injuries and sexual assaults.
SO WHY WOULD ALL THESE COLLEGE PRESIDENT SIGN ON?
College presidents have largely been unsuccessful in controlling campus drinking and in particular, binge drinking, and some think that by lowering the drinking age, many of their problems would go away.
Although it is hardly ever mentioned by the presidents, it would stand to reason that they would solve a lot of their liability problems if the drinking age is raised. Some colleges have been named in lawsuits by parents of students who have died or been injured as a result of alcohol.
DOES THIS PROPOSAL HAVE ANY CHANCE OF BECOMING REALITY?
The MADD leadership says it is doubtful because if states decided to lower the drinking age, they’d lose 10% of their federal highway funding. That’s a big bite in already shrinking state budgets. The Minimum Age Drinking Law was passed in the mid-80’s, and a number of states that had a drinking age of 18 raised it to 21.
But it is vitally important that we use this “debate” as an opportunity to build awareness and to convince the public – not to mention college presidents – why lowering the drinking age would be a disaster. We cannot allow this proposal to gather steam.
At the same time, we should be addressing all the ways that underage drinking CAN be addressed on college campuses, and in our communities.
PREVENTION HAS SEEN SUCCESSESFUL SINCE THE MINIMUM DRINKING AGE WAS RAISED TO 21 IN ALL 50 STATES.
*The 2007 “Monitoring the Future” survey shows that 28% of high school seniors have never used alcohol, compared to 8% in 1984 before states raised the drinking age to 21.
*According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, approximately 25,000 lives have been saved because of fewer accidents involving young drivers who had been drinking.
*In the early 70s, a number of states lowered the drinking age and nighttime fatal crashes increased 17% in the 18-20 age group.
RESEARCHERS HAVE CONFIRMED THAT TEEN DRINKING HAS LONG-TERM CONSEQUENCES.
*The adolescent brain is not fully developed until the early to mid-20s. As a result, alcohol use prior to age 21 can hamper brain development and function.
*Youth who begin drinking before the age of 15 are four more times likely to develop alcohol dependence as an adult than those who wait until age 21.
*The National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol Related Conditions indicates that of adults diagnosed with alcohol dependence, 47% met the criteria before 21.
LOWERING THE DRINKING AGE WOULD TRANSFER THE PROBLEM TO OUR NATION’S HIGH SCHOOLS.
It would strengthen the perception among younger teens that if the drinking age is 18, it’s probably OK for them too.
WHAT ABOUT THE ARGUMENT THAT IF YOU’RE OLD ENOUGH TO FIGHT FOR YOUR COUNTRY, YOU’RE OLD ENOUGH TO DRINK?
*Lowering the drinking age is a health and safety issue. Military leadership has seen the clear and dangerous effects of alcohol on morale, readiness, and combat effectiveness.
*Every branch of the military is focusing more and more attention on alcohol education and responsible drinking campaigns with impressive results.
*Instead of touting military service as a reason to drink younger, civilian leaders should turn to the military as role models on how to achieve significant results with the current age standards.
WHAT ABOUT THE ARGUMENT THAT IF YOU’RE OLD ENOUGH TO VOTE, YOU’RE OLD ENOUGH TO DRINK?
*Again, it’s a health and safety issue. 18-year olds can vote without endangering their health, their lives and the lives of others.
*Alcohol has harmful effects on adolescent brains. Voting doesn’t.
IT IS OFTEN ARGUED THAT LOWERING THE DRINKING AGE WOULD HELP YOUNG PEOPLE TO LEARN TO DRINK RESPONSIBLY – LIKE THEY DO IN EUROPEAN COUNTRIES.
A common perception is that alcohol is a bigger problem with American young people compared with young people in European countries, which have more liberal drinking age laws. Studies show, however, that compared to the United States, a larger percentage of young people from nearly all European countries report drinking in the past 30 days. And a larger percentage of young people from most European countries report binge drinking, defined as five or more drinks in a row.
Great Britain is one of the countries currently suffering from an epidemic of severe alcohol-related problems. Abuse of alcohol has grown drastically in the last few years, among underage drinkers as well as among adults of all age groups. These problems can be traced directly to deregulation of both on-premise and off-premise sales of alcohol.
Other European countries are also taking measures to reduce the growing incidence of underage drinking, including Ireland and Norway.
SO WHAT SUGGESTIONS DO WE HAVE FOR COLLEGE PRESIDENTS?
*It’s time for real leadership in formulating campus alcohol policies, instead of administrators dreaming up ways to limit potential liability.
*College presidents should engage students in developing a set of principles designed to create a campus environment that de-emphasizes the role of heavy drinking in student life.
*Any such policy should include strengthening efforts to educate parents of incoming freshman, to provide confidential counseling and intervention services for students, and to bolster campus and community enforcement.
*Colleges must inform and educate students and their parents about the wide range of consequences of binge drinking. A very strong correlation exists between student drinking and physical and sexual assault, depression, anxiety, and school failure. And as alarming, is alcohol poisoning from binge drinking that can result in death.
*College administrators need to communicate loud and clear the overriding message to students, parents, trustees, and alumni: that alcohol is off limits if you’re not 21.
* College students drink more that those in the same age group that are not in college. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s program, A Matter of Degree, studied this issue for many years. They found that the more actions taken by a community and the college, the lesser the drinking problems.
NOTE: The above is very basic information. Please check the following websites for more specifics on “Support 21.”
MADD – www.madd.org/Parents/UnderageDrinking.aspx
CADCA – www.cadca.org/CoalitionResources/publicpolicy/support21.asp
NIAAA – www.niaaa.nih.gov/AboutNIAAA/NIAAASponsoredPrograms/drinkingage
NHTSA – www.nhtsa.dot.gov/
CDC – www.cdc.gov/alcohol/quickstats/mlda.htm