by Ryan Stevens
I have come across many people who have stated rather simply that they believe that if the United States were to adopt a lower drinking age, there would be fewer alcohol-related incidents in the country. They also believe that this change would only take about one or two generations to set in. This is a terrible misconception. It is my strong opinion that such a notion would not have anywhere close to the desired effect.
I have not been a part of the Whitworth community as long as many students here, but I am no stranger to college life. Last year I attended Washington State University, witnessed an appalling amount of drunkenness and was privy to stories of blackouts, MIPs and stomach pumps. While this is a theme not limited to WSU, it is a crystal clear example of a generation not prepared to handle alcohol. Consequently, lowering the drinking age to say, 18, would be a disaster.
Many people under the age of 21, especially those in college, are simply too young to know when use becomes abuse. I have a friend back home who goes to a university in California, and when I asked her if she drank, she hesitated. When I asked why, she responded by saying that she tells people she drinks, they interpret that to mean that she gets drunk. In the eyes of youthful drinkers, there is no distinction between the two.
There are numerous safety concerns involved with being intoxicated, such as blurred vision, impaired motor skills and delayed reaction time, as well as the loss of inhibitions which guide judgement and decision making. Furthermore, the Bible, while not prohibiting drinking (within the limits of the law), does condemn drunkenness. People who are drunk become not only a danger to themselves, but to others as well. Drunk drivers are responsible for deaths across the country and belligerent drunkenness can often be unsettling and frightening in public spaces. The consequences of getting drunk do not only affect the drinker, but the people around them, too. There are numerous reasons, both physical and spiritual, not to become drunk.
The obvious contradiction to this idea is Europe. Advocates of a lower drinking age point to countries such as France or Spain, where the drinking age is two or three years below 21. Let me tell you from experience that the cultures of Europe are entirely different from the culture here. In America, people drink to get drunk (not all people obviously, but from my experience the vast majority do).
In Europe, alcohol is not as big a deal as it is here. This is true for things such as sex, or even nudity for that matter. In places such as France and Spain, it is not uncommon to see someone walking down the street with a complete lack of clothing. Would that same person last 10 minutes in America without a free ride in the back of a cop car for indecent exposure? Not a chance. The same goes for drinking. In Europe, alcohol is a pastime, like having a cup of coffee, not a “sport” like in the U.S., where drinking oneself into a state of unconsciousness is a story people tell with pride.
The difference is the attitude towards things like alcohol. We, as Americans, over-indulge in everything, and booze is no exception. Why do you think there are so many commercials with the hidden cop who nails the foolish, young and intoxicated teen trying to drive? Because as a society, we have a problem.
So why not lower the drinking age? Minors are already in possession of alcohol as it is. The problem is that younger people who drink, are committing a crime. The mere fact that underage drinking is illegal should be enough to sway some from doing so in the first place. These minors who do choose to break the law are subject to more punishment than someone who is legally allowed to drink. Many people are of the opinion that lowering the drinking age would provide early access to alcohol, which would help teens become more accustomed to drinking at a younger age. They believe that this will desensitize younger generations and make them prepared to drink responsibly before they are thrust into the world on their own. This is faulty logic.
Access to information early on does not guarantee responsible actions later in life. When under peer pressure, rationales can be made and it becomes easier and easier to blur the lines of legality and personal responsibility. This is true even for those exposed to responsible drinking at an early age. If people are not able to drink responsibly, even when they are old enough to do so, there is no reason we should lower the drinking age to accommodate those who feel they should not have to wait to get drunk.