Lowering drinking age to promote responsibility and sensible practices for students and young adults
Imagine going to a giant kegger on the Fiske Quad sponsored by the college. Wouldn’t that be nice?
And not just because of the presumably free beer. It would be more than a sweet party. It would be our Berlin Wall moment (“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”). The wall between the underage drinking culture and the college culture of personal growth would finally be trampled, creating one culture, one identity.
I know. It sounds like I’m over-simplifying—and probably romanticizing—the methods of creating a more utopian college drinking environment. Though I honestly think if the drinking age was 18—if the college was legally allowed to embrace the culture of drinking—Keene State College would be a much better and safer place on the weekends.
First of all, I think alcohol is kind of weird and a little stupid. I love it. I drink on most weekends and have a freakin’ ball. It opens up social possibilities that would otherwise be lost in the abyss of self-consciousness which appears while attempting to decipher the mostly irrelevant intricacies of being a young adult.
But it’s weird that there is one drug, one intoxicant that is entirely socially acceptable. Who decided that? Weed is probably better for you than alcohol, but weed is illegal. Alcohol is not. It’s weird.
I know. We all know – prohibition and the reality of controlling the populous and all that “yada-yada” stuff.
But the alcohol industry has risen to become a near trillion dollar business and an absurdly large part of our popular culture. The New York Times recently published an article that highlighted the disadvantages non-drinkers have in the business world. “There is a perception almost that you’re impotent,” said one non-drinker who talked to the New York Times. Basically, non-drinkers are considered weird. And that makes no sense.
Let me put it this way; there are tons of things in life that are true for no reason, like the fact that men can’t wear purses or paint their fingernails, or the fact that girls can’t walk around in a bra and panties but they can wear bathing suits, or the fact that honey always comes in a bottle shaped like a bear or Paul Ryan.
Alcohol is the king of all those things. For whatever reason, alcohol is a giant pillar, maybe even part of the foundation, of our popular culture and there’s really no clear reason why. It can’t be just because it makes you feel awesome, right?
Let’s step back for a second. Before I tie all that in, I want to look at the drinking age in the United States compared to the rest of the world. I’ll be brief.
According to a December 2009 article on the New York Times’ website, we are one of only six countries with a drinking age of 21. Five countries have a drinking age of 19 or 20. The rest of the world, including the entire European continent, has a drinking age of 18 or below.
So why is the United States’ drinking age unique to the western world? It’s actually pretty simple.
In the 1970s—after 18-year-olds got the right to vote in 1971—individual states started lowering their drinking age.
By 1975, only 15 states had a drinking age of 21—down from 40 in 1969. A lower drinking age was the new progressive standard. Every state wanted a piece of the action.
All this progressive shifting ended in 1984, when Ronald Reagan raised the drinking age to 21 federally. It’s been that way ever since.
Why was Reagan being such a buzz-kill? Young people were apparently killing themselves in drunk driving accidents at an unprecedented rate. According to groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, a lower drinking age meant more dead young people on the side of the road. No one wanted that; so the drinking age was raised.
I’ll spare you the time and say that this theory has been proven to be flimsy at best. There was a slight rise in traffic fatalities among young people in the 1970s. But when I say slight, I mean it. And when the drinking age was raised in 1984, there was no decrease in traffic fatalities. Essentially, it didn’t work. For further reading see “Does the Minimum Legal Drinking Age Save Lives?” by Jeffrey Miron and Elina Tetelbaum.
Simply put, the drinking age is 21 because of the incredibly good natured, but ultimately misguided passion of worried moms.
So, finally, here’s my point: alcohol is a gigantic part of our culture and an absolutely monstrous part of college culture. It’s weird that it is. But it is and will be for a long time. We have to deal with it; and the current drinking age, which has no real ethical rationality, weakens the arsenal colleges have for dealing with it. Colleges can’t be potent with their attempts to halt bad drinking habits when they’re only allowed to use innuendo.
The drinking age should be lowered. Enough horsing around. There are plenty of faculty, administrators, and professors at every college in the United States who would love to speak to students to help them figure out how to handle their alcohol; but as long as we have the current drinking age, students under 21-years-old will struggle to find good reason to listen.
Dylan Morrill can be contacted at