Is 18 old enough to drink?
“Yes” is the simple answer to that. If someone is old enough to go off and fight in a war, certainly it stands to reason that they’re old enough to have a beer. And even if the law says they’re not old enough, we all know quite well that where there’s a thirst there’s a way, and that teenagers have a rich tradition of flouting the rules to get a brew or a shot.
The reason this age-old issue is coming up again is due to the “Amethyst Initiative” ” an interesting movement on the part of some college and university presidents, who are standing up and declaring that the time for an unenforceable drinking age of 21 must come to an end. Is it because leaders of august institutes of learning such as Duke, Tufts, Colgate, Dartmouth and Ohio State are eager to get more booze in the hands of their lower classmen?
Apparently not. The thinking goes that people old enough to go to college are old enough to make decisions about alcohol consumption. There’s also the idea that people exposed to drinking at 18 will have a little more knowledge of how to handle themselves around alcohol and be less likely to engage in binge drinking. Another thought, I believe, goes that if you don’t have access to alcohol on a regular, legal basis, when you do get it you’ll drink like a fiend.
An argument put forth by opponents of a 21-year-old drinking age is that parents are essentially cut out of the process. Were the drinking age 18, we could legally and responsibly introduce our kids to alcohol. We could show them how to enjoy a glass of wine, how to appreciate a beer, how to avoid Jagermeister (and shots in general). The current program is to turn them loose to learn it painfully all on their own as college freshmen.
That’s not to say that young people won’t still go overboard. So long as there is drink, there will be those who abuse it. And you don’t need to be any particular age to be a numbskull with booze on a regular or even occasional basis. The question is, will making it legal for 18-year-olds really make a difference on college campuses ” or anywhere else?
I’m trying to picture how it would look to have a freshmen orientation with the English department, where beer and wine are served in a civilized, non-“Animal House” environment. Will those students be learning responsible drinking, or will the function just serve as a warm-up to the kegger planned later in the evening?
I don’t think it’s possible to say without gathering some statistics. To do that, though, you’d have to change the drinking age and see what happens. When the national drinking age of 21 was instituted in 1984, it came with a stipulation that any state not complying would lose 10 percent of its highway funding. Thus, any meaningful discussion about whether the 21 age limit really makes sense is stifled by the threat of losing those road dollars. What the Amethyst folks suggest is something similar to the graduated driving license program, where “student drinkers” have to take classes and get a permit of sorts to buy alcohol. If they violate any alcohol laws, the permit would be revoked.
It’s a sticky question, and one that is hard to imagine today’s cowardly politicians will want to tackle. Stick up for Amethyst, and the first 18-year-old to get killed in a DUI incident will be your political downfall.
It’s hard not to listen to college administrators, though, who see the effects of binge drinking on a daily basis. Maybe they’ve got something here. Check out the site online at http://www.amethystinitiative.com.
This is Alex Miller’s last column for the Vail Trail. He has taken a position as editor of the Summit Daily News in Frisco starting next week.