A crazy proposition

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Recently, there has been a push by a group of chancellors and presidents of universities and colleges across the nation to lower the drinking age to 18. Their theory is that risky drinking among young people continues despite the legal drinking age of 21 and they believe lowering the minimum age would decrease the incidence of binge drinking. This logic makes absolutely no sense to me or others involved with the Cassville Community 2000 Coalition, who have been fighting for a number of years to educate local residents about the danger and prevalence of underage drinking.

In the Cassville community, the average age of first use of alcohol is 12 years old. Lowering the drinking age to 18 in our opinion will only intensify the problem of underage drinking and propel that age of first use even lower. In response to this ludicrous idea of lowering the drinking age, Missouri's Youth/Adult Alliance (MYAA) has issued a press piece titled "4 Good Reasons for 21." This document proposes four arguments against lowering the drinking age, which we have included below.

1. Brain development: Even between the ages of 18 and 21, the brain is still developing, specifically the area that controls complex decision making and planning. According to research studies, adolescent drinkers scored worse than non-users on vocabulary, general information, memory, memory retrieval and at least three other tests.

2. Increase in traffic crashes: Back in the late 1960s and 1970s, a number of states lowered their drinking ages from 21 to 18. In many of these states, research documented a significant increase in highway deaths of the teens affected by these laws. So in the early 1980s, a movement began to raise the drinking age back to 21. After the law changed back to 21, many of the states were monitored to check the difference in highway fatalities. Researchers found that teenage deaths in fatal car crashes dropped considering - in some cases up to 28 percent - when the drinking age was increased to 21.

3. What about Europe? Comparing the 2003 European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD) and the 2003 United States Monitoring the Future Survey (MTF) revealed that a greater percentage of young people from nearly all European countries report drinking the past 30 days and for a majority of these European countries, a greater percentage of young people report having five or more drinks in a row compared to U.S. 10th graders.

4. The state pocketbook: A law established in 1984 mandates that $50 million in federal highway funds will be withheld from the state if drinking age does not remain at 21.

Something that this publication did not point out is the message that would be sent to our young people if states lowered the drinking age to 18. In our opinion, we'd be encouraging teenagers and kids to drink earlier.

This week, we have also published a letter from Stephen Wallace, national chairman and chief executive officer of Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD). As a school psychologist and adolescent counselor, he makes a number of good points against lowering the drinking age. We hope you'll read this editorial and then read Wallace's letter.