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Don't Lower the Drinking Age

Joshua Sharp

Posted: Feb 20th 2009 8:36PM

Filed under: USC, News, Advise & Dissent, Microtrends on Campus

Animated disagreement between coworkers is a venerable tradition often denied to Bright Hall's far-flung, break room-less staff. Advise & Dissent is an attempt to fix that. Click here for past debates.

My colleague Megan Baker has a post up today proposing that the U.S. would be well-served by a lower age limit on alcohol consumption, in advance of a "60 Minutes" special airing Sunday which is sure to renew the national debate.

Critics of the current age limit are undoubtedly well-intentioned, but their focus is ill-advised. Lowering the age limit from 21 years of age to 18 would send precisely the wrong signal to young people across the country: that alcohol isn't as dangerous and serious a substance as has been suggested for the last twenty-five years, when the current limit was put into effect.

Rather than focusing energy on slightly modifying a somewhat arbitrary number, we should instead unite around effective education and prevention programs led by student ambassadors armed with the real facts. Too many alcohol education programs sound like they've been crafted by out-of-touch administrators instead of actual peers.

Students need to hear about the effects of alcohol from fellow classmates speaking in our common language. Relying on hyperbolic scare tactics and abstinence-only rhetoric ends the dialogue far too early.

"Haze" is a new documentary which strikes this important balance. Centered around the devastating, preventable death of a University of Colorado freshman, this gritty film explores the culture of binge drinking and guides viewers toward an effortless conclusion, reinforcing the stark realities of excessive alcohol consumption. (You can see the film here. It is difficult to watch, so viewer discretion is advised.)

At the start of my freshman year at USC, all incoming students had to complete a two-part online education course, AlcoholEDU. The first half of the program had to be completed before the start of classes, and the second half began much later in the semester. While AlcoholEDU was certainly more memorable and conversational in tone compared to others I've seen, there remains a powerful subculture at college in which binge drinking is socially acceptable.

Penetrating this subculture and making binge drinking "uncool" again has to be our top priority today on campuses across America. Instead of spending money on campaigns whose legislative proposals, if passed, would suggest that alcohol is now more acceptable than ever before, we should work together on making binge drinking more unacceptable than ever. Such a social stigma would have a far greater impact than any legal limit.

Should the Drinking Age Be Changed?
Yes, It Should Be Lowered1139 (79.7%)
Yes, It Should Be Raised46 (3.2%)
No, It Should Remain at 21244 (17.1%)

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