College presidents seek to legalize 18-year-old drinkers

Lowering the legal drinking age to 18 would discourage binge drinking, argue a group of college presidents from major colleges and universities.

(Amethyst Initiative) signers think the current law isn’t working, citing a “culture of dangerous, clandestine binge-drinking,” and noting that while adults under 21 can vote and enlist in the military, they “are told they are not mature enough to have a beer.” Furthermore, “by choosing to use fake IDs, students make ethical compromises that erode respect for the law.”

Drinking is going to be a problem on college campuses whether the drinking age is 18 or 21. But it might be easier to promote sensible drinking with a sensible drinking age.

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  1. It seems they are using this logic: “The ONLY way to eliminate underage drinking, is by allowing younger people to drink.” All this would do is make it easier for high school students to obtain alcohol. We don’t learn to ‘drink responsibly’ simply when it becomes legal to consume. It comes with maturity, and you can’t really speed that process up.

    Hall Monitor

  2. Learning to drink responsibly come with maturity, to be sure, but also with opportunity. The current system permits alcohol to the nominal college senior. The reality of the social scene on campuses these days, judging by the reports, is that students of all ages participate. The only way that happens, because most of the students are underage, is out of sight of any responsible supervision. Lowering the drinking age would allow bars and restaurants to serve alcohol to 18-20 year olds. The bars and restaurants would then be able to cut drinkers off when they’ve had more than enough. With outlets for responsible drinking available, the hope is that the binge drinking culture would be undercut. Perhaps fewer students would be attracted to binge raves when it would be easy and legal for them to gather with a few friends over some beer.

    It sounds like it’s something worth trying. It used to be that the states were responsible for setting their own drinking ages. I wonder if there is any data out there to support the idea that a lower drinking age is consistent with less binge drinking. (In fact, states still set their own drinking age laws, but the Federal Gov’t has coerced the states into adoping a uniform age of 21 for drinking.)

    In any event, binge drinking, like so many other things, is a social phenomenon that becomes part of the culture on campus. In some ways it is a self-perpetuating phenomenon. It’s not going to go away until and unless it become unfashionable. The authorities certainly cannot decree it out of existence. Diverting some of the “social energy” that fuels such drinking into other venues holds some hope of reducing its frequency.

    It’s not like there are many better ideas out there.

  3. Richard Nieporent says:

    Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.

    When I went to Columbia University in 1960 the drinking age in New York was 18. That of course was before the States were forced by the Federal Government to raise the drinking age to 21. However, I entered college when I was 16, so I couldn’t legally drink until my junior year!

    An ironic thing about the Amethyst Initiative is that one of the College Presidents supporting it is Richard H. Brodhead of Duke University. During the Lacrosse Rape Case one of the things he went out of his way to do was to denounce the lacrosse players for underage drinking. He then appointed a committee to look at drinking on campus and they recommended a strict no drinking policy. I guess Brodhead wasn’t really serious about underage drinking. It was just a convenient club to use to beat the lacrosse players with so he wouldn’t have to address the question of their innocence.

  4. Everyone drinks underage. Finally someone supports it. If the age is lowered I can finally stop worrying that I’m going to end up on drunkenly rambling about my Linguistics professor.

  5. “With outlets for responsible drinking available, the hope is that the binge drinking culture would be undercut.”

    While the hope is worth trying, I suspect part of this is a cultural phenomenon that the law is only marginally likely to affect at all. If you go to France or Italy, a meal isn’t complete without a glass of wine. But if you go to the UK, binge drinking is, if anything, worse than it is here, though the drinking age is 16. Maybe in the US, people would be more likely to be cut off than British pubs where people routinely get violently drunk.

  6. Binge drinking has nothing to do with alcohol, and everything to with the fact that these kids are, by and large, transitioning from a highly-protected environment where they’re never held accountable for anything–high school–to an environment where they’re actually responsible for their actions.

    By the time their binge drinking in college because their parents are far away, the societal failure is already complete. Our public schools teach that failures really, well, aren’t (see the Dallas Rules post for the most recent example), and the kids come out with the attitude that this is really how it is. Couple that with parents who won’t hold their little darlings responsible for a damn thing, and here we are.

  7. Furthermore, “by choosing to use fake IDs, students make ethical compromises that erode respect for the law.”

    How is that logical? I choose to break the law, so that erodes respect for the law……. It’s lack of enforcement that erodes respect for the law. Lack of consequences.

  8. Teach5, it’s a tangent, but…

    ANDREW: This is the worst fake ID I’ve ever seen…

    BRIAN: [laughs]

    ANDREW: Do you realize you made yourself sixty eight?

    BRIAN: Oh, I know…I know, I goofed it…

    ANDREW: What do you need a fake ID for?

    BRIAN: So I can vote!

    I love The Breakfast Club. 🙂

  9. Mrs. Davis says:

    an environment where they’re actually responsible for their actions.

    I didn’t realize this was a story about the military academies, ’cause that sure doesn’t describe most colleges I know about.

  10. Devilbunny says:

    It always amazes me to see such profound hostility to the idea that an eighteen-year-old is old enough to drink. If we waited until people were “fully mature” before they were allowed to do things, then the drinking, voting, marriage, and driving age would be 30 (or more). You have to learn some time, and eighteen-year-olds can be tried as adults.

    Maybe in the US, people would be more likely to be cut off than British pubs where people routinely get violently drunk.

    There does seem to be a rather large gap between expected public behavior of the young and inebriated in the two countries; the sort of violent drunk youth-packs that roam market towns sound exactly like the sort of thing that gets you a night in jail in the US.

  11. We need to choose one age – either 18 or 21 – nationwide where a minor legally becomes an adult. And make that the threshold for all adult activities – driving, drinking, smoking, access to adult materials and facilities, voting, military service, etc.

    We have to draw the line somewhere. The U.S. can’t seem to decide between 18 and 21, though.

  12. Cloud Strife–I couldn’t agree more (and just posted a similar sentiment at my own blog). EIther they’re adults, or they’re not; this in-between business isn’t working.

  13. Maybe we need a drinker’s license?

  14. Per Quincy, maybe we need a parent’s license!

    As far I’m concerned it’s an open question whether the parents or the peers influence college drinking more. The nature of fads and fashions are unpredictable and, in something rebellious like binge drinking, self-perpetuating. I’d like to see the attitude propagate: So you can binge drink. Ho hum.

  15. Reality Czech says:

    We seem to be back to “Old enough to fight, old enough to drink.”

  16. Lower the drinking age, but please raise the voting age to where it was before.

  17. Elizabeth says:

    Wow – with that kind of logic operating in higher ed circles, I’m sure we’ll have to start homeschool for college.

  18. I don’t understand the logic of the college presidents. I think they’re just lazy and don’t want to deal with the under-age drinking problem. When a 19 year old dies of alcohol poisoning on campus, they get a lot of heat.

    That said, the Libertarian in me says it makes no sense that a legal adult is restricted from drinking or even walking through a pub. My brother’s wife couldn’t bring her luggage through the hotel lounge (the shortest way) because she was only 20 years old. Craziness.

    The mom in me is, admittedly, a little nervous about lowering the drinking age.

  19. “We need to choose one age – either 18 or 21 – nationwide where a minor legally becomes an adult.”

    Uh, and where in the US Constitution would federal authority to make that sweeping choice come from? (Hint: the answer is “nowhere.”) Unless you’re saying the feds shouldn’t impose this choice, but it should just somehow emerge by consensus among all 50 states: no disrespect intended, but as a former state legislative staffer, I have to say that is beyond fantasy.

  20. Walter Wallis says:

    The 18 year old vote, the 26th ammendment, was passed in unseemly haste with little consideration of its total impact. It was thought that the young would be overwhelmingly democrats.
    Beside the lower drinking age, the lowering of the age of contract was a boon to lots of crap merchants.

  21. Strange how for 99% of human history there has been no legal restriction on drinking age whatsoever and somehow mankind survived the challenge. I guess this means either young Americans are exceptionally weak and stupid by historical standards, or laws placing an age restriction on this are an unnecessary holdover from Prohibition.


  1. Self-Interested Activism…

    100 college presidents have banded together to call for a reduction in the drinking age from 21 to 18. They believe that this will curb binge drinking. Instapundit agrees. McQ dissents. Duffy thinks it will at least make them real popular with their …..