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Changing the drinking age?

Mark Easley | Friday, October 7, 2011

Alcohol has developed quite the legend amongst the human race as a social lubricant, an amnesia prescription, an aphrodisiac, a vomit inducer, a bravery potion, an anger enhancer and many other unique traits that brings smiles to people’s faces, aches to their heads or sick feelings to their stomachs. It brings about happiness and sadness in those that partake and those that are around partakers. Because of the negative aspects, rules have been developed to curb excessive consumption.

In most of the world you are considered an adult at 18-years-old. You have finished or will finish school (hopefully) and can voluntarily pursue higher education or go out into the work force. America does it slightly differently. You get three more years of a trial period at being an adult. You can get locked up like an adult, vote like an adult, smoke like an adult, get drafted like an adult, pay taxes like an adult. But don’t drink like an adult, don’t buy a handgun like an adult, don’t rent a car like an adult. Twenty-one seems like such an arbitrary number. Even 20 would be much more reasonable to our base-10 minds. It is stupid to have this subclass distinction and it really makes young people in this three year limbo vulnerable to a lot of flak.

I totally understand the root cause of why many people want to suppress drinking culture. It makes people sloppy and disgusting. It breaks apart families and encourages poor decisions. But mainly it kills. Alcohol poisoning is not a joke, nor is depression that could lead to suicide, nor is drunken anger that leads to assault and murder. The biggest strike against intoxication is drunk driving. Innocent people die every year because some moron decides to drive home after getting plastered. People suffer life changing injuries and paralysis after getting T-boned by a drunk driver. This is unfortunate and all too common in our society and we should not have to deal with it, but we also don’t need to punish those who drink responsibly.

My proposal is a two sided approach. We should lower the drinking age to 18. I think this would make colleges safer because students will not be drinking for the first time. A lower drinking age will also ease the attraction and the frustration of underage drinking. Everyone knows that when you turn the legal age, drinking doesn’t have quite the same thrill as it did when you were underage. Many people become more responsible with age. However, that is with our current Puritan standards and with wider acceptance people may become more comfortable and less responsible. It is hard to see how the lower drinking age would affect high-schoolers. Underage drinking in high school is already pretty prevalent, but may skyrocket if peers can legally purchase. Britain, where the drinking age is 18, is currently having a lot of societal issues that are alcohol related. The entire country is suffering from national alcoholism to an extent. This is one of the negatives to a lower drinking age and a widely accepted drinking culture. A solution will be to have tough underage consumption laws to protect the minors in our society.

The age limit is the carrot, but now we need to bring out the stick. Along with lower drinking age we need to implement draconian penalties for drunk driving. Anyone driving while intoxicated will face monumental fines and/or years of jail time. We need to show people that their life will be ruined if they drive drunk. Steeper punishments for public intoxication than just a night in the drunk tank might encourage more reasonable consumption. This hopefully will fundamentally change people’s behavior and eliminate the worst aspects of intoxication. The alcohol is not the problem. It is the negative side effects (and people being dumb) that we want to discourage.

Is alcohol a necessary evil? In my humble opinion, I could survive the rest of my life without another drop of alcohol. While that would work for me, others have a strong attachment to these elixirs. We tried temperance as a society before and it just showed that people will bend the rules instead of adapt, so we know it can’t work in a free society. Given this reality and the belief that people should have the freedom to do as they please as long as it does not impinge on the freedom of others, we must at least make the system work the best it can. Elections are not won or lost by the drinking age issue, but maybe one day we will see a shift in the right direction.

Mark Easley is a senior computer science major. He can be contacted at measley@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.