Dear Lou Anna,
What is all this hype going around school about a proposal to lower the drinking age to 18? For many of us it would be nice to be able to go to a bar and order a drink, but a lot of teenagers are still naïve about drinking responsibly. When many of our parents were in school they could drink at 18, but times have changed and our generation is different. We have a lot more physical stimulants, which can cause us to feel the need to let loose in potentially harmful ways. We also have a lot less discipline.
This whole debate started after 130 college presidents – including those from Duke and Ohio State — launched a movement for discussion about the current drinking age, called the Amethyst Initiative. You were not one of them. I know this was unpopular with a lot of students, but your job is to look out for their safety, not be their friend.
The Amethyst Initiative started in June 2008 when founder John McCardell, President Emeritus of Vermont’s Middlebury College, contacted several presidents who were long-time friends to ask their opinions regarding the drinking age. The presidents discovered a common desire to revive the debate about the current drinking age, and support followed.
Since then I have talked to a lot of your constituents and they have had split opinions on the matter.
According to statements on www.amethystinitiative.org, supporters of this movement believe 21 is an outdated age for drinking. Adults under 21 are allowed to vote and join the military, but they are not allowed to have alcohol. They also believe that lowering the drinking age could reduce binge drinking, which is typically defined as four or more drinks on one occasion for women and five or more for men.
At a large campus like MSU, many minors are bound to let loose after a long week of classes. However, when caught drinking by officials, a minor in possession charge can turn into heavy fines and probation, not to mention a dent in someone’s record. For instance, during Welcome Week there were 134 “minor in possession” (MIP) citations given. Universities and employers often ask about criminal history, and a misdemeanor on your record can sometimes stint your chances of being accepted.
Sure, it is a valid point that college students are bound to drink and MIPs are tarnishing records. But there are some good statistics that show lowering the drinking age may produce more harm than good; it may actually increase binge drinking and auto related accidents.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, binge drinking is the highest among ages 18-20, which make up 51 percent of binge drinkers. It also leads to more than 4,600 youth deaths per year. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) says that in European nations with lower drinking ages, such as the United Kingdom, there are higher rates of binge drinking. These countries are considering increasing the drinking age to 21 because of its effectiveness in the United States. MADD’s statistics also show that since the early 1980s the number of teens killed annually in crashes, involving drunk drivers under 21, has been cut in half. More than 5,000 young people were killed in the early 1980s versus about 2,000 in 2005.
Sophomore resident mentor Jourdan Weiss is leery of lowering the drinking age. She envisions 18-year-old females going to a bar and being bought drinks by older men. This could set up a scene for date rape drugs to be slipped into drinks. “Girls might get taken advantage of; a lot of them have been around the same people for four years in high school. They’re naïve coming to college. They don’t realize that not everyone in college is trustworthy,” Weiss said.
Weiss, who oversees female students on Wilson Hall’s third floor, thinks that many 18-year-olds would drink even more for a period of time if a law like this was enacted. “People would go buck wild at first. Imagine turning 18. People would be doing 18 shots to celebrate and may be less aware of the consequences of their actions. They might end up drinking so much that they get alcohol poisoning,” Weiss said.
Sure, many people take 21 shots for their 21st birthday, which is not ideal either. But teenagers’ brains are still developing into their early 20s. Heavy drinking damages the pre-frontal cortex of the brain in teenagers, which leads to decreased long term memory and ability to learn complex tasks.
Many states are hesitant to lower drinking ages because the federal government has tied them to federal highway funding. The law enacted in 1984 threatened to withhold 10 percent of federal highway funding unless states rose the drinking age to 21.
Traditionally, active U.S. military members could consume alcohol at 18 on a military base. However, in the 1980s, Congress required the military to comply with the state’s drinking age. However, if a base is located within 50 miles of Mexico or Canada, that drinking age could be adopted. Current legislation has been introduced this year in Kentucky, Wisconsin and South Carolina to lower the drinking age for military personnel. A bill is in the works in South Dakota to allow 19- and 20-year-olds to buy low-alcohol beer.
Junior Allison Rice, 20, agrees that 18-year-olds are not mature enough, but suggested that 19 would be a better age. “People are going to drink anyways. At 18 years old some teenagers will still be in high school and will not have matured enough. Nineteen is a better suited age,” Rice said.
Senior Kimberly Bonk, 21, admits to drinking underage her first three years in college. Although she can legally drink now, she deems the current drinking age “stupid.” Bonk believes a lot of the appeal to underage drinking is because it is illegal. According to MADD statistics, 48 percent of all alcohol consumed on 4-year college campuses is by underage students. Bonk said the drinking age should be 18. “You can get married, serve in the military and live on your own before you are 21.”
However, Bonk said to compensate for a lowered drinking age, drunken driving penalties should be increased.
Homer Smith, executive director of MADD Michigan, said there is enough evidence in the number of lives saved and reduction of binge drinking that supports keeping the drinking at 21-years-old. According to MADD statistics from the pre-21 law, the current drinking age saves about 1,000 lives per year.
Smith was not surprised that college presidents signed on to the Amethyst Initiative. “I think what happened is leadership of the Amethyst Initiative misrepresented the data it showed to college presidents,” Smith said. “We [MADD] want to give praise to Lou Anna Simon for not signing the initiative,” Smith said.
So you see, Lou Anna, some people are glad that you have not followed in the footsteps of others. Sure, there are 18-year-olds who would be responsible with drinking, but there are many who would not be. We cannot risk their safety and the safety of everyone else just so they can hold a beer in their hands sooner.