In 1984 the National Minimum Drinking Age Act mandated that all 50 states prohibit the sale and possession of alcohol to all persons under the age of 21. Now, statistics of binge drinking on college campuses raises a debate over whether or not the drinking age is appropriate in the United States.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, approximately 5,000 youths in the US under 21 die from accidental injuries, homicides, or suicides while under the influence of alcohol each year.
The NIAAA categorizes at risk drinking for men as more than four drinks in a single day, or more than 14 per week. For women more than three drinks a day or more than seven in a week is considered heavy. Binge drinking is reaching a blood alcohol concentration of over 0.08g/dL in less than two hours, or four drinks in less than two hours. In 2009, a study reported that 10.4 million young people between the ages of 12 and 20 had a drink of alcohol within the last month. The NIAAA believes that the National Minimum Drinking Age Act saves lives, and the drinking age should not be lowered.
Before 1984, in many states, the drinking age was 18. It was common logic that “If you are old enough to die for your country, you are old enough to have a drink.” This is still an argument heard, especially by young troops in uniform that can drink when in port in foreign countries, but are denied service when they make it back home.
Then there are organizations like the Amethyst Initiative. Founded in 2008, the Amethyst Initiative is made up of 136 higher education leaders that believe that a serious debate should be had over lowering the drinking age from 21 because of the consequences of binge drinking on campus. These presidents and chancellors of prestigious institutions around the country believe that mandatory alcohol awareness programs are ultimately ineffective and the binge drinking going on behind closed doors or in public with fake ID’s ultimately leads to a degradation of respect for the law.
The Amethyst Initiative met swift opposition from programs like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) who believe that colleges are trying to solve their out-of-control problem of underage drinking by placing the problem on high school parents.
While most of the world – where drinking is legal – maintain a drinking age of 18, the United States is on par with the highest drinking age in the world. So, if other countries can maintain their youth with a drinking age of 18, couldn’t the United States?
William DeJong, a professor at Boston University, conducted research on studies of drinking and the effect that the minimum age may have on the health of young people. DeJong concluded that the higher drinking age could save up to 900 lives a year, mainly due to less alcohol-related traffic fatalities among underage drivers.
DeJong supported his research with an example from New Zealand, which lowered its drinking age from 20 to 18 in 1999. Almost immediately an influx of alcohol related traffic incidents were reported throughout the country from drivers aged 16 to 19.
In Europe, where most countries support a drinking age of 18, the problem is not quelled. In a 2003 European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs, which DeJong cites in his research, the study reports a higher percentage of high school students that consume heavy amounts of alcohol than that reported in the US. In 2011, 47 percent of European high school students reported they had been drunk in their life, compared to 36 percent of students in the United States the same year.
In the land of the free, the debate over when citizens are granted the freedom to consume alcohol will continue. The new statistics on binge drinking ultimately just raises ammo for both sides of the debate over the drinking age. On one side, young people will have to learn to consume alcohol responsibly no matter what age it is granted to them. On the other, the precious few years between becoming an adult and becoming a drinker may provide just enough maturity to save lives.
By Cody Long