Smith: Battling Binge Drinking

by Andres Smith | 10/14/14 6:15pm

The legal drinking age has been under fire since the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 raised it to 21. Rather than try to fight the act through legal or social means, many young people simply choose to ignore it, happily consuming alcohol despite its illegality. For evidence, you don’t have to look any further than our own campus, where dozens of Good Samaritan calls come in every term — and since most students are underage, these calls are likely due to underage drinking. Whether we like it or not, drinking is an integral part of the social culture here at Dartmouth, much like it is at most colleges. Though the school is constantly forming new policies to curb alcohol consumption and promote alternative social activities, a larger issue is being ignored. The legal drinking age in the United States should be 18 instead of 21, because the current drinking age is both senseless and hypocritical.

Despite our high drinking age, the U.S. has a higher rate of binge drinking than any other country in the world, and the problem is greatest among underage drinkers, Mic reported. Because many non-American cultures include beverages like beer and wine as part of family life, dangerous behavior like binge drinking is not as prevalent. By the time young people reach legal drinking age, they understand the complicated nature of alcohol consumption — and how to handle themselves safely when drinking.

Since the drinking age in the U.S. is 21, most people cannot drink in front of their families until they are well out of the house. Their formative experiences concerning alcohol, then, are rushed, secretive and probably excessive. When your first glass of wine or beer is surrounded by concerned and caring family members, it will probably be a much more positive experience than if you are surrounded by friends who are also largely inexperienced (and mostly concerned with getting drunk). If the drinking age is lowered, alcohol can enter the household in controlled quantities before young people go off to college. By the time they arrive at school, young people will be more adept at handling alcohol-related situations.

Turning 18 in the U.S. essentially means adulthood in every aspect except drinking. If you are legally an adult, you should be able to exercise a right that almost every other adult in the world does. Some argue that an 18-year-old brain is not ready for alcohol, and I agree — just like 18-year-old lungs are not ready for a cigarette, and 18-year-old arteries aren’t going to benefit from a cheeseburger. Lowering the drinking age should be coupled with a similar effort to the one we have seen surrounding tobacco use: a tax should be added to increase the price of alcohol, and the revenue should go toward educating people — especially young people — about the dangers of excessive consumption.

Alcohol is undeniably dangerous when handled improperly. However, 18-year-old men and women in the U.S. should be able to drink legally, like our peers in most other parts of the world do. Here at Dartmouth, we see this culture of irresponsible binge drinking almost every weekend. Dick’s House will continue to fill up with students mishandling alcohol, and no Safety and Security crackdown or freshman fraternity ban is going to curb that. If we want to change the culture surrounding high-risk drinking, we must increase the money dedicated toward education concerning alcohol consumption and enable parents to teach their children about responsible drinking at home rather then letting them learn in an unsafe environment. Arbitrarily keeping the drinking age high does nothing but harm those it nominally aims to protect.