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Nineteen: A drinking age that makes sense

Published: November 12, 2010
Section: Opinions


GRAPHIC BY Ariel Wittenberg/The Hoot

College students like to drink. Enforcement of rules against the consumption of alcohol at America’s colleges nearly always fails. This is a fact that every American and certainly every Brandeisian after Pachanga knows; yet, for the past two decades, every state has maintained a legal drinking age of 21 years of age. It would seem nonsensical that an American could legally take a bullet for their country in war, yet not be able to order a beer.

However, the country’s policy has been just that since 1984, when the federal government passed a law that denied any state 10 percent of their federal highway funds if they had a legal drinking age lower than 21. Colleges across the country realize it is impossible to enforce the legal drinking age on their campuses.

In 2008, 100 college presidents from schools such as Duke, Ohio State and Dartmouth formed the Amethyst Initiative, which calls for lawmakers across the country to lower the drinking age. These presidents have even gone as far to argue that the current drinking age encourages dangerous binge drinking.

Supporters of a legal drinking age of 21 versus 18 often cite the importance of keeping alcohol out of the hands of young teenagers and kids in high school as the most important aspect of a higher drinking age. There is no doubt that high school students often can’t handle the responsibilities of alcohol, especially underclassmen, as countless studies have shown that children who start drinking before they are 16-years-old are more likely to become alcoholics later in life.

Common sense also dictates that by allowing 18-year-old seniors in high school to buy alcohol, they would then go and buy alcohol for underclassmen. However, if the drinking age were 19, this would not be a problem and the only kids still getting their hands on alcohol would be the ones most determined to do so, who drink while in high school today.

Changing the drinking age to 19 years of age would be a major step in the right direction. However, problems could still ensue. College first-years would still not be able to drink in the open, which would force the most naïve college students to drink in the shadows. To counter this problem, I would propose having an exception in the law for 18-year-olds, who would be allowed to drink if they were either enrolled in a college or university, or if they were members of the military.

Also, it would behoove high schools across the country to have a class dedicated to responsible consumption of alcohol. Nobody expects young people to simply get in a car without first going through a driver’s education class; the same should be done when it comes to the consumption of alcohol, which like driving, is a potentially dangerous yet ubiquitous activity.

Ultimately, it is the illegality of alcohol consumption that encourages dangerous drinking habits. People enjoy the thrill of breaking the rules and violating taboos, therefore, by taking the mysteriousness out of alcohol, the amount of binge drinking would likely go down. This would be willing to bet that far fewer students would have been hospitalized for alcohol related reasons during Pachanga if the thrill of breaking the rules hadn’t been there.

Therefore, by changing the legal drinking age to 19 with common sense exceptions for legal adults, the United States would join the rest of the developed world in having drinking age laws that make actual sense, and recognize the obvious fact that yes, legal adults of all ages always have and will continue to consume alcohol.