On my 21st birthday, I walked into the liquor store down the street from my house knowing what kind of beer I preferred, how much it cost and where it was located. I’m sure this is how it went down for many other college students as well, because let’s be honest: we’ve been doing this for a while.
Joseph A. Califano, president of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, once said that a child who reaches the age of 21 without drinking is “virtually certain never to do so.” On average, kids start drinking at 15.9 years, according to the group Focus Adolescent Services. Underage drinking is, of course, illegal, but it is an inevitable part of our society. Because of this, it is done in a hush-hush manner that only increases the danger of the situation. Kids drink in remote fields, at houses without supervision and, once they hit college, hide out in their dorm rooms for fear of being caught.
To me, this problems stems not from underage drinking, but irresponsible drinking. This opinion is echoed by 135 members of the group Amethyst Initiative, which consists of current college and university presidents who, in their experience with students, believe the drinking age of 21 does not work. In the group’s statement, they argue that the dangerous culture of binge drinking, which peaks around age 18, has developed because of this age limit.
They’re right: no one ever taught me how to drink responsibly; they just told me it was wrong, and it went in one ear and out the other. It would be more helpful if alcohol education informed students of how to drink without going overboard. People are considered adults before they are 21. They can fight in a war, vote, sign contracts and serve on juries, but the law deems them too immature to have a beer. In my opinion, once people get real and realize alcohol is going to be a factor in young adult’s lives no matter what, the “forbidden fruit” appeal of it will be lost.
In the 1970s, when the drinking age was lowered to 18, there was a large increase in alcohol related accidents almost instantly. But in those days, states took no precautions to increase responsibility, which is like telling kids premarital sex is okay but taking away sexual education. Now, 25 years after the drinking age was raised to 21, we’ve matured quite a bit as a society. With groups like Mothers against Drunk Driving and Students against Drunk Driving, the necessary resources to educate on these issues are available. Driving under the Influence penalties are greater and automobiles are safer.
Also, “designated driver” is now a regular term in our vocabulary. Not to mention legal drinkers age 21-34 are the reason for most drunk driving accidents, according to www.alchoholalert.com.
As our past with prohibition shows, just because you make something illegal does not mean it stops happening – and what happens is often more hazardous than if it were legal. Elected officials need to brain-storm, and hear from the people they are serving, about ways to approach the current alcohol situation. Whether it involves lowering the drinking age or not, teaching responsible drinking is the way to assure safety among young adults.