Lower the Legal Drinking Age in America?

Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall Next to Your High School Diploma

MSNBC ran a story today about how U.S. colleges are campaigning to lower the legal drinking age in the country.

RALEIGH, North Carolina – College presidents from about 100 of the best-known U.S. universities, including Duke, Dartmouth and Ohio State, are calling on lawmakers to consider lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18, saying current laws actually encourage dangerous binge drinking on campus. (Read the original article)

Basically, that would mean that high school seniors would be allowed to drink legally. According to the article:

…the statement makes clear the signers think the current law isn’t working, citing a “culture of dangerous, clandestine binge-drinking,” and noting that while adults under 21 can vote and enlist in the military, they “are told they are not mature enough to have a beer.” Furthermore, “by choosing to use fake IDs, students make ethical compromises that erode respect for the law.”

The concerns here, of course, are that drinkers, regardless of age may hurt themselves and/or others. Since the number of alcohol related deaths, injuries and property damage is already astronomical in the 21-and-up crowd, is it really a good idea to lower the age to 18?

I’m approaching 30 and I have an exceptional memory, so I can vividly recall what it was like to be a teenager and having to kowtow to authority and rules everywhere I went. When I turned 18, I went straight to the liquor store and bought my first pack of cigarettes and a California Super Lotto Ticket, which I still have. The lottery ticket, not the smokes. (The pot was $3 million.) I also remember making the same observation about how silly it was that I could join the military and be trained to kill, but I couldn’t have a beer. So I can understand the constant upward pressure by the youth and why they would want to change the current rules.

I’m totally with them when it comes to reexamining the structure that’s already in place. These things should be checked and rechecked regularly to ensure that they still benefit society. With that said, the arguments presented don’t convince me that a younger age limit is in order. If nothing else, it should be higher.

Vote, Kill and Smoke, but No Alcohol

Turning 18 in America earns you a lot of freedoms that on the surface seem equal to, if not greater than, drinking a beer. However, when we examine those privileges closer, we’ll find that they’re actually quite different things altogether.

I read someone’s comment on the article that if 18-year-olds are able to buy cigarettes, they should be able to buy alcohol. But why? When I’m walking down the street and I see someone smoking a cigarette, I don’t worry that this person might verbally or physically assault me. If I see them get into a car after smoking, I don’t worry that they’re going to cause an accident or run someone over. Even if this person is a pack-a-day smoker, it doesn’t cross my mind that this person will probably call in sick to work the next day. I don’t believe the same can be said about alcohol, especially in a teenager’s hands.

As for joining the military and learning to kill people, let’s keep in mind that this is the military we’re talking about. It’s not exactly the freedom that teenagers are looking for. In fact, it’s probably as much structure and bureaucracy as you can get (if my friends in the military can be believed). So if teenagers want to exercise their freedom to give up their freedom, be my guest, but I don’t see how this equates to being able to drink alcohol…unless we consider the fact that the military will train you on how to use firearms and how to kill other people. But let’s look at that a little closer as well. The military trains you to protect the country and its interests. Sometimes that involves killing other people, sure, but through it all, you are being trained. With training, comes discipline. Now unless there’s some kind of mandatory “alcohol training course” that I slept through when I turned 21, no one teaches you how to drink responsibly.

In regards to voting, most teenagers don’t use this privilege, so it may not even bear comparing, but if we examine it based on the same concerns we have with alcohol use/abuse, they’re hardly the same. A single voter is no danger to himself or others.

Maturity Differences Between 18 and 21

The article quoted a college student who is for the age limit reduction, stating:

“There isn’t that much difference in maturity between 21 and 18…”

What she doesn’t realize is that statement can go both ways. She’s trying to say that 18-year-olds are as mature as 21-year-olds. I think that 21-year-olds are as immature as 18-year-olds. Even though the government says that 18-year-olds are legally adults, that’s really just an empty title. Kids are staying kids much longer. Sure, they may emulate adults by getting jobs and having children, but does physically being able to do something equal maturity? Spend enough time on YouTube and you’ll see that 20-somethings revel in doing stupid, immature things. How old would you say the average girl is on a Girls Gone Wild video? Thirty truly is the new 20.

Mental maturity aside, are 18-year-olds physically mature enough to drink alcohol on a regular basis? Their bodies are still developing and growing. Is it wise to have alcohol introduced then? I mean, they’re still dealing with acne!

Really, what I’d like to see is how much stock the quoted girl above puts in her statement about there being no maturity difference. Would she, as a 21-year-old college graduate, date an 18-year-old high school graduate?

Dangerous Drinking

This I don’t get. Underage drinkers drink more when it’s harder to get and they have to hide their drinking, but if the age limit is reduced and they can drink legally in the light of day, they’ll drink less? Am I crazy or does that sound like faulty logic? Are underage drinkers binge-drinking just to stick it to The Man?

Eradicate Crime by Making Crime Legal

The argument I love the most is the bit about “by choosing to use fake IDs, students make ethical compromises that erode respect for the law.” In this scenario, the problem isn’t alcohol age limits; it’s that the person using the fake ID is willing to break the law to get something he or she wants regardless of what it is, whether it’s beer, an MP3 or a video game. Colleges want to prevent the “erosion of respect for the law” by eroding the law preemptively to save underage drinkers the hassle of breaking it.

Last Call

The article makes two valid points I’d like to address in closing.

  1. Underage drinkers are going to drink regardless.
  2. Colleges want to lower the drinking age to unify the student body.

Then the solution here isn’t to lower the drinking age. It should be raised. Then everyone will be unified under the banner of underage drinking. The only people who get screwed with this plan are the underage that are waiting to drink until they’re legal. But in these cynical times, when it comes to changing laws, no one really wants to consider that the law is actually effective for some people.