Should 18 be the new 21?

Posted on August 19, 2008. Filed under: Uncategorized |

I feel the need to add my two cents to the recent news that a number of college presidents from prominent colleges have advocated for law makers to consider lowering the drinking age to 18. To view the full story please go to

From my point of view this news deserves to be looked at from a number of different angles. As a conduct officer who deals primarily with cases of underage drinking, I see first-hand the harm that alcohol and specifically binge drinking has on students. I am a witness to the dangerous and detrimental things that students do when they are intoxicated and am often on the listening end of conversations that begin with “I didn’t plan to do that, but once I had that extra drink, I wasn’t thinking”. My concern when these students come in, is not making them swear off drinking, but making them realize that excessive drinking prevents them from making smart decisions and acting in a manner that they can be proud of. My next concern is ensuring that students understand and utilize campus resources that can educate them on smart drinking behaviors (i.e. drinking in moderation/knowing their limits, drinking in the company of trusted friends, having a D.D., eating before and during alcohol consumption, etc.). My biggest argument against lowering the drinking age is that it doesn’t solve the root problem of alcohol abuse among college students; it doesn’t address the lack of education that students get surrounding alcohol consumption. If college presidents are truly interested in cutting down on the number of fatalities, injuries and sexual assaults connected to drinking than perhaps they should be lobbying congress for funds to support mandatory alcohol education in high schools and increased funding to support efforts by college health centers to promote healthy drinking behaviors.

One of the arguments mentioned by supporters of the presidents’ initiative is that the maturity of an 18 year old is not much different than the maturity of a 21 year old. I have to disagree, particularly when viewed from a high education perspective. I find it hard to believe that college presidents and other administrators would be pleased to find their freshman and junior class having the same level of maturity and decision making capability. More and more colleges are developing missions to promote social responsibility, wellness, and overall personal growth, as such they should be hesitant to equate a freshman’s concept of these things with an upperclassman’s. Doing so simply devalues higher education.

Lastly, I would like to throw in my personal opinion on one the most embattled cries for lowering the drinking age: the concept that 18 year olds can vote and join the military and therefore should be allowed to drink. My question is whether these things are intrinsically connected or just thrown together to garner support for a weak cause. My initial thought would be that the connection lies in the level of maturity necessary to drink responsibly, to serve in the military, and to cast an educated vote. However I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the reason that 18 year olds can serve their country is because an army of old, yet mature men and women is unrealistic. It takes youngsters with a sense of invincibility and a craving fom adventure/glory to enlist in the military-not maturity. As for being able to vote, well 18 year olds have only had the right since 1971 and the change had nothing to do with science proving that 18 year olds were more mature than had once been thought. It had to do with the heat that legislators were under because 18 year olds were getting drafted into the Vietnam War and they couldn’t even vote for the president who was sending them there.  In other words, voting and military service, much like legal alcohol consumption, are not contingent on maturity, instead they are tied to different social, political, and cultural issues and trends. This should make college presidents as well as other advocates of lowering the drinking age think twice before seeing them as intrinsically connected.


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One Response to “Should 18 be the new 21?”

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I like your points on the issue of lowering the legal drinking age. Setting the drinking age has been a political and moral issue and not a health issue. I read an article that stated during prohibition, there were twice as many speak-easies in NYC than prior. So we know that adults will drink whether legal or not and that 12-20 year olds will continue to experiment with alcohol whether they have legal access to it or not. What are your thoughts on the concept that if it is legal, we can, without sending a mixed message, “teach” students to drink? How would you see this playing out at OSU? What if we could “watch” students drink in the halls, lounges, rooms with the doors open? Would we learn more? Would it be overwhelming and completely unproductive? By the way, I think that our work load is intact. Even if we don’t see people for mip, we will be seeing people for the violations that happen when drunk. Like in your blog, people don’t think when drunk (and sometimes when sober). : )

I think your point on alcohol education in the high schools is great, the problem is that they can’t teach them “how” to drink. They can only teach abstinence. The reason for that is the legality. If they dropped the drinking age to 18 they could at least state, when you get to drink… or if they dropped it to 16, then could add it to health ed for juniors/seniors. I agree with you though, that dropping the age isn’t going to lead to fewer problems.

It would be interesting to look at not just drunk-driving stats, but campus vandalism rates and other secondary issues. I know at my alma mater, when they quit purchasing alcohol for hall functions their rate of damaged property dropped off almost completely.

If you are going to lower that drinking age, to what age do you drop it? Why not eliminate it all together? European models seem to eliminate alcohol as a rite of passage, but have other problematic consequences.

You are right on about 18 and serving in the military. They are willing to jump out of helicopters and get shot at because they think that they are invincible and are young enough to buy into the propaganda or heroism and machismo. The voting history was new to me. Good to know.

I know that Pat Ketcham in Student Health has several helpful websites.


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