Got Alcohol? Drinking Age a Cultural Issue

Universities have been debating the drinking age topic for some time, most recently making the news in response to concerns over binge drinking.

I know I’m not the only person who scratches her head at the idea that an 18 year-old isn’t old enough for a glass of wine or bottle of beer, but s/he is plenty old enough to be trained to use an automatic weapon for the purpose of killing people who are trying to kill him/her. Universities have been debating the drinking age topic for some time, most recently making the news in response to concerns over binge drinking.

Jake Young of Pure Pendantry makes the case that drinking in this country is, in general, less an age-related problem and more a cultural issue. I have to say I see his point. The minimum age laws may be doing nothing more than possibly delaying alcohol abuse by a few years. And if John McCardell is right, there are a bunch of adolescents who are going to indulge simply to rebel against a legal age limit that they recognize as arbitrary. And what are adults going to say? It’s not? The age at which you are considered an adult appears to depend on what you want to do.

We can all agree that there’s not an age in which people cognitively drift over some magical line into mature thought. After all, I know more than one 40 + year old who still partakes in bars as though he were the star of his own B western flick. If you read about the National Minimum Age Drinking Act, you can see that it prohibits public consumption, not consumption that would be considered private. The university presidents signing the Amethyst Initiative are pointing out that students are still drinking — dangerously so – in private.

The public statement has predictably brought on a firestorm of criticism, most notably from MADD. But MADD is focused almost exclusively on behavior that occurs after drinking (i.e., drunk driving), and not the drinking itself. And it’s the drinking that should concern healthcare professionals, because we understand the detrimental effects of alcohol abuse.

I guess my question would be, are both sides of the argument in effect substituting a law for effective healthcare policy? Whether or not there has been a decrease in drunk driving fatalities since the law was enacted, are we narrowly treating a symptom and ignoring a bigger problem?