It was the summer of 1967, the night before Martin Luther King was to speak in Detroit. The inner city was on edge. But, that turmoil wasn’t our concern. We were in high school. We were more afraid of getting caught, of having to face our parents, our coaches and the law.
If that carry-out hadn’t sold to minors, we wouldn’t have partied that night. We didn’t know anyone over 21 who would buy alcohol for us and, while we knew 18-year-olds who could buy 3.2 beer we were looking for something more adventuresome.
That experience is the main reason why this new movement by some college presidents to lower the drinking age to 18 is a bad idea. More than half of all high school seniors turn 18 before they graduate. That’s just too much legal access to alcohol.
As you’ve probably read by now, more than 100 university presidents have signed the Amethyst Initiative, a proposal that suggests the legal drinking age of 21 has created “a culture of dangerous, clandestine binge drinking, often conducted off-campus.”
They contend they can’t teach responsible drinking to students who can’t legally drink, nor can they sponsor social gatherings where students can be exposed to their example of moderation. They suggest they could do this if college students could legally drink.
The logic escapes me. What college student wants to party responsibly with “old” people when they can get slobbered with friends?
Let’s face facts. For the young, alcohol is social lubricant. It frees inhibitions and facilitates interaction with the opposite sex. Besides, it’s fun to watch others stagger, lose coordination, slur words and act out of character.
Alcohol is also social glue. Party nights give the young shared experiences where idiocy is forgiven but not forgotten. Bonds are forged from friends helping a drunken idiot remember his or her outrageous behavior.
While mature adults have sufficient poise and ego to interact socially with no or moderate use of alcohol, it is an acquired skill, one honed from experience with “binge drinking.”
That’s right, binge drinking. I know what you’re thinking. Binge drinking means duct-taping your mouth to a funnel while someone pours beer down your throat until you stagger into a corner, puke and pass out. But, you would be wrong. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, binge drinking is defined as reaching a blood alcohol concentration of at least 0.08 grams percent, the legal DUI definition. Generally, that means five or more drinks in two hours for men and four or more for women.
Back when I was in college that was the definition of “drinking.”
The young drink to reduce stress, relax, fit in with peers, and feel good. The lure of sharing these experiences with friends is so intoxicating that lowering the legal age to 18 will just create the same problems in high school that we have in college. And, fun aside, these problems are serious. According to MADD, since the 1980s when the minimum 21 drinking age was set, the number of young people killed annually in crashes involving drunk drivers under 21 has been cut in half, from more than 5,000 to nearly 2,000.
I don’t have a clue how to stop college students from getting drunk. These are adults, not legally answerable to parents. We can only arm them with information and example. The rest they’ll have to figure out on their own. We can only hope they make small mistakes and not endanger themselves or others.
But, to make it legal for more than half the high school senior class to purchase alcohol at age 18 would create a nightmare for students, parents, teachers, administrators and police.