Drinking to a Lower Age Limit

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After a three-year absence, the Anthill Pub is back. You stroll in, place an order for some delectable fire ants and saunter up to the bar to order a drink. But whoops, you are only a lowly 18-year-old and sub human at best. Save the few who have decided to abstain from drinking, we have all lived through the awkward years of resorting to the lowliest of tactics in order to get that sweet nectar. To clinch our thirst for alcohol, we call on older brothers, make friends with awkward 21-year-olds we do not really like or practice the sin of lying.
Now someone out there feels your pain because a new nationwide campaign has been initiated to open up debate about changing the current drinking age. They are crusaders slashing through red tape on their way to a booze-soaked holy land. So who is leading this new charge? Why, it must be a pack of roaring frat boys foaming at the mouth for a new chance to play beer pong, the sorority sisters eager to drink a cocktail by the pool or perhaps raging alcoholics eager to make new, younger friends.
Actually, the campaign was initiated by presidents from the most prestigious colleges in America, including Duke, Dartmouth and Syracuse. It is called the Amethyst Initiative, and while it does not explicitly call for lowering the drinking age, it seeks to open up debate on the subject. Soon, it will reveal itself to the greater general public via a widespread advertising campaign.
Most of us are aware of the incongruities with the current drinking age, which at times can seem absurd. The United States government trusts 18-year-olds enough to strap them with an automated assault rifle, thrust a series of grenades into their hands and ship them off to fight in a war where it is nearly impossible to tell friend from foe until the bullets start to fly. However, God forbid they take a shot of whiskey. The government also trusts an 18-year-old to vote for elected officials, to live alone, to pay a mortgage and to take care of a family, but hypocritically, not to handle a beer.
People opposed to reducing the drinking age believe the act would have a series of negative consequences. They believe the underage drinking that goes on in colleges would just be taken up by the new cohorts under the legal age. It would move the burden of enforcement and counseling away from colleges to budget-strapped high schools. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) believes the number of drunk drivers would sharply increase and others feel that the current age limit has actually cleaned up college campuses.
These points are made by people who have forgotten what it is like to be young and stupid. Underage drinking is already prevalent at the high school level. What did you think kids were doing when their folks were out of town? I have seen the movie “Superbad,” a biographical documentary about me and every other hopeless nerd. The only change will be that teenagers, who are considered responsible enough to drive a vehicle, will have to ask their 18-year-old brother instead of their 21-year-old brother for booze.
MADD claims that lowering the drinking age will increase levels of drunk driving. They have no basis for this assumption. Lowering the drinking age is just as likely to decrease drunk driving as it is to increase it. Making drinking illegal means that kids need to hide what they have done, which prevents them from calling for a ride to get home. An 18-year-old will drink no matter what, and since many 18-year-olds believe they have broken one law, they’ll be less reluctant to break another.
Finally, anyone who believes bumping up the drinking age helped to clean up college campuses must be choking on their own naivety. Making the drinking age 21 only wiped away the drinking you could see. Criminalizing activities as common as drinking only forces people to move it underground into more dangerous and less monitored environments. It means people slam back shots quickly before their resident advisor walks in, or drinking all the rum before mom and dad return home.
Remember that wonderful experiment called Prohibition? Booze was outlawed, and yet it would take a matter of minutes to find a drink. It engendered a violent and corrupt world that made possible the legendary status of men like Al Capone. While there are no college freshmen rolling out with Tommy Guns, making booze a forbidden activity only encourages them to break laws and behave dangerously. The problems created by lowering the drinking age are unlikely to occur. Canada, America’s Ned Flanders, has a drinking age of 18 and I do not believe that drunk drivers are roving the streets waiting to claim their next victim. Plus, I do not want Canada to be cooler than us.

Kevin Pease is a fourth-year psychology and social behavior major. He can be reached at kpease@uci.edu.

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