July 15 08:29 PM

Eighteen or twenty-one?

November 12, 2008
Not long ago a number of college presidents came out with a statement which advocated lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18. Needless to say their action caused some controversy among those groups anxious to keep the age restriction.

The basic argument is that those between the ages of 18 and 21 are not mature enough to drink responsibly and while I can understand that point of view, it does seem strange that this same age group is old enough to vote and serve in the military, possibly risking their lives in the process. It doesn't quite seem fair.

Just after I turned 21 the drinking age was lowered to eighteen but after several years the law was changed back to 21. While traffic deaths did seem to decrease for awhile, the debate over the age limit still continued.

I personally think the drinking age should be 18. Now lowering the drinking age, or for that matter keeping it at its present level is not going to guarantee those who imbibe will do so responsibly.

I think part of the problem is that we have always had mixed feelings about drinking. For a time we tried nationwide prohibition and found otherwise law abiding citizens breaking the law resulting in the rise of such gangsters as Al Capone providing liquor and beer to those who wanted it. Indeed the Purple Gang made regular trips between Detroit and Windsor in the effort to supply local drinkers with a variety of products.

When prohibition ended much of the crime it spawned came to an end as well, although there was no guarantee that those who used alcohol would do so in a mature fashion.

Those who oppose teenage drinking at 18 are concerned that these youngsters are not mature enough to handle the responsibility. Then there is the problem that 18-year-olds would buy alcohol for younger friends and siblings who can't pass for 18 with their own fake IDs. This is always a possibility even if the age limit were to remain at 21.

In Europe young people are exposed to wine and beer as they are growing up, where alcohol is a natural part of life and part of the culture. Students who have returned from study overseas find the youngsters their age who they got to know drank occasionally, but rarely to such a degree as to put themselves in danger. It is all a matter of attitude and the willingness of role models, teachers or parents, to teach and set the example of the proper use of alcohol and the consequences of its abuse.

The key here is education. At the University of Virginia an extensive informational campaign resulted in students discovering not everyone was drinking to excess, easing peer pressure to the point where there was a significant drop in alcohol related incidents, driving under the influence and engaging in unprotected sex.

These problems go beyond the college campus and into our high schools and middle schools and there are no easy answers. Perhaps some form of lowered age combined with effective education could reduce the drinking related problems in the United States today. Prohibition doesn't quite seem to be the answer.

As a member of a school board, I should add that this is my personal opinion. Like other members of the board I am committed to providing our students with a sound education on the subject of substance abuse including alcohol related problems. As with many social issues confronting our young people, the key to understanding them is education, and a balanced curriculum should include their analysis and discussion.

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