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The Dialogue

Question:

Is the proposal by a group of college presidents that the nation consider lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18 reasonable?

YES,

the lower drinking age has not altered the behavior of 18-year olds.

Nancy Hogan

The drinking age debate has been a hot topic for years. Should 18-year-olds be allowed to drink or should the age of alcohol consumption be 21 years old? What is the difference?

Some believe 21-year-olds are more mature and more responsible while critics argue that at 18, men and women already are mature in that they can marry, serve in the armed forces, and make their own legal decisions.

The real issue is often ignored. The laws are supposed to reflect society's boundaries of acceptable behavior. Thus, the majority of citizens should agree with these boundaries and abide by them. No one would argue that murder is an acceptable behavior except in defending oneself. The problem with alcohol usage laws is that the majority of 18-year-olds drink. This pattern of behavior has not changed for 30 years.

Thus, the law has not shaped the boundaries of behavior; it has actually contributed to a more dangerous environment of binge drinking, alcohol poisoning, and criminal records that can affect students' careers. In Michigan, the law has gone overboard by making a “Minor in Possession” a misdemeanor. Thus, a large percentage of Michigan students leave college with a degree and a criminal record.

The bottom line is that the law cannot shape morality. Our culture promotes alcohol usage for entertainment and relaxation. The media promotes this in commercials, television shows, and movies. Criminalizing a behavior for legal adults that is culturally acceptable is wrong. Focusing on responsible drinking is a much more important goal than chalking up citations!

Nancy Hogan, is a professor and graduate program coordinator in the School of Criminal Justice at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan. She received her Ph.D. from Arizona State University and has published on health issues of inmates and correctional staff satisfaction.


NO,

there is no evidence younger drinkers will handle alcohol consumption responsibly.

Eva Erskine

If it were possible to guarantee that 18- to 21-year-olds would drink responsibly and understand the consequences of alcohol consumption, I would favor lowering the drinking age. I have not seen evidence that this is true. Therefore, I must oppose lowering the drinking age.

I suggest to the college presidents in favor of lowering the drinking age that they research the number of teenage alcohol-related deaths. The numbers are staggering. In addition, some research on alcohol- related healthcare costs, both medical and psychological, may sway their opinion. I am thinking particularly of Korsakoff's syndrome and fetal alcohol syndrome. Alcoholism is an addictive, serious medical condition that also affects family members of the alcoholic.

Some may argue that I may be jumping the gun; just because someone drinks at 18 doesn't mean that they will become an alcoholic. That may be true. But, that doesn't mean we have to encourage young adult drinking.

I challenge this group of college presidents to give me some sound economic reasons for lowering the drinking age, other than profits from liquor sales. Much more importantly, I would like to know how their position is socially responsible. How does society benefit if the drinking age is lowered?

What is a college president's motive in lowering the drinking age? I am wondering if it makes a college president's job a little easier if the drinking age is lowered. Discipline in any organization is time-consuming and disruptive. Is the discipline issue for illegal drinking too much to handle?

When Ivory Tower academics can back up and substantiate their position with scientific research, maybe I will listen to them.

Eva Erskine is an adjunct faculty member in the Training and Development master’s program at Roosevelt University in Chicago, Illinois. She is currently working on a Ph.D. in educational psychology at Walden University.

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Published In

October, 2008


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