Should The US Lower The Minimum Drinking Age?
Sheela Doraiswamy writes at Mind The Science Gap about the arguments for and against lowering the drinking age:
Those in favor of lowering the drinking age basically argue that the current minimum drinking age of 21 doesn't serve much benefit as it is. For example, in an editor's note published in a 2007 issue of the Journal of American College Health, author Dr. Reginald Fennel argues that the current drinking age is essentially like prohibition all over again- meaning that, even though alcohol is outlawed for people under 21, that certainly doesn't stop them from drinking.
...With the mindset that they're not supposed to drink, underage students may actually be more likely to binge when given alcohol (in other words, they may think along the lines that "this is my only chance to do this, I may as well enjoy it" and drink more than would have without restriction). In fact, underage students are more likely to binge drink than their peers who are of age.
Some arguments against:
According to a review of literature published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, author Ralph Hingson cites several studies on the issue done in the 70s and 80s. In 1971, some states did try and lower the drinking age to 18, and in the years following had an increase in fatalities from alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents. These numbers declined after 1988, by which time all 50 states had raised the minimum age back to 21.
Another article by Robert Voas and James C. Fell also argues that lowering the drinking age to 18 will have too many unintended consequences. Aside from increasing motor vehicle accidents again, they claim that this will make it easier for even younger adolescents (high school students) to obtain alcohol from their 18 year old peers. They also discuss the fact that there hasn't been as much research on binge drinking among 18-25 year olds who don't attend college, and we don't know how lowering the drinking age may effect this group.
Actually, as addiction treatment specialist Stanton Peele noted on my radio show, kids who come from families where there's a responsible culture of drinking tend not to binge drink. He notes that the Jews and the Chinese tend to foster healthier attitudes toward alcohol. The Jews, for example, do it through exposure to it young, and through being less accepting of abuse of alcohol. (This isn't to say no Jews abuse alcohol, just that there's a culture, like that in my family, where drinking is not prohibited and where drunkenness would be entirely unacceptable. Wildly so.)
Silliness from the piece:
Proponents of the Amethyst Initiative have also discussed the idea of creating a "drinking license" for 18-20 year olds, who would have to take a course on safe alcohol consumption and pass a test before they can legally buy alcohol. Whether or not this would work should be a subject of further research. For now, it's probably safe to say that public health experts should look to other interventions in the quest to decrease binge drinking on college campuses.
Your vote? (On the drinking age, not which of the two substandard candidates will win the presidency.)