The Electric Commentary

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The 21-Year-Old Drinking Age Kills

The Associated Press has a fear-mongering article about underage drinking in which touts the same old tired talking points: More laws, more community involvement, more oversight of college students.

Let's say that you were unfamiliar with the statistics on underage drinking, and you were simply told that there was a substance called alcohol which was pleasant when consumed in moderation but dangerous when consumed to excess. You are also told that in this country we forbid people from having alcohol until they are 21 years of age, out of the house, and free from parental supervision. In fact, activist groups like MADD actively campaign against those under the age of 21 consuming any amount of alcohol with their parents.

If you were given these facts and asked to make a prediction, you would probably predict that deaths due to alcohol poisoning would occur as soon as drinkers moved out from under the control of their parents, and again, when they turned 21 and gained the legal ability to drink.

And you would be right:

Freshmen were found to be at greatest risk, with 11 of 18 freshmen deaths occurring during the first semester.

Walters said one reason is that freshmen are on their own for the first time and trying new things. Also, there is a mentality that "if you're under 21 and someone's got alcohol, you've got to drink it, because you never know when somebody's going to have it again."

One practice—drinking 21 shots on a 21st birthday—has proven especially lethal. Of the college-age deaths reviewed, 11 people, including eight college students, died celebrating their 21st birthdays.

If you have half a brain you can see that tragedies like this are caused by the 21-year-old drinking age, not prevented by it. People should learn to drink under the supervision of their parents. They should learn what alcohol does to you, how much is too much, and that drinking is not actually the big deal that the college atmosphere makes it out to be.

Instead we provide incentives for a bunch of inexperienced 21-year-olds (and 19-year-olds) to drink as much as possible with no supervision, no experience, and knowing that if they do actually need help and call for help, that they will be arrested.


Finally, if you happen to be looking around on the neo-prohibitionist MADD website you will find the following regarding the "myth" that Europeans are safer drinkers than Americans:

Perhaps the best example of fact versus myth when it comes to the “European Myth” is a look at what happened in New Zealand. In 1999, New Zealand lowered its purchase age from 20 to 18. Not only did drunk driving crashes increase, but youth started to drink earlier, binge drinking escalated, and in the 12 months following the decrease in legal drinking age, there was a 50 percent increase in intoxicated 18- and 19-year-old patients at the Auckland Hospital emergency room.

Clearly, Europe has serious issues with youth alcohol use.

Man, they must have been wasted when they wrote that. Or, alternatively, they may not have had any actual European examples.


  • Really, the 21 year old drinking age doesn't stop drinking, it just shifts its location, but are bars really a better place for 18 year olds to be drinking?

    I don't know that bars qualify as great supervision for 18 year olds to be drinking. I also don't know that 18 year olds are going to stop having dorm and house parties where they get wasted just because alcohol is legal.

    Frankly, it is all supposition. Maybe it would work if kids started drinking around their parents, but I think the main problem is youth, rashness, and peer pressure, not illegality or the results thereof.

    By Anonymous Scott H, at 7:52 PM  

  • I think I agree with Scott. While there may be some who binge drink to get their fill when it is available, I think this effect would be dwarfed by the increased amounts that would be drunk if it suddenly became available. The current prohibition adds a cost to drinking, and therefore would tend to decrease the amounts youth drinks.

    As for lowering the drinking age to 18, maybe less 21 year olds would die from doing 21 shots on their 21st birthday, but perhaps more 18 year olds would die on their 18th birthdays.

    By Anonymous Bill, at 11:55 AM  

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