I recently finished reading Annemarie’s well-written article about the Amethyst Initiative. As a result of working in the Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) field for some time I had heard of it prior to the “100 Presidents” media coverage.
On one hand I strongly support a national discussion about problem drinking in colleges and in “reducing harm” for those students who choose to drink.
Before I read the articles I never seriously considered reducing the drinking age of 21 as a way to solve the problems of college binge drinking and couldn’t think of a single good reason for doing so when asked my opinion about the idea.
As the AOD Guy here at Millersville University my guts said “Of course not, are you wacked?” but as a result of innumerable personal experiences of wiping egg off of my face and a long term commitment to open mindedness, I decided to do some research. I spoke to my colleagues and mentors and searched on the internet. I have been unable to find a single piece of science that supports such a grand experiment.
I was at a conference last spring and had the good fortune to hear R.W. Hingson, an acclaimed researcher who is also a wonderful human being share about his experiences and findings on drinking in adolescents and young adults, respond to questions about the Amethyst Initiative. One of the often-cited reasons for a reduction of the drinking age looks to the “fact” that European youth learn to drink responsibly.
I had previously had the pleasure of working with some of our foreign exchange students with significant AOD issues. What they told me about their “healthy” relationships with alcohol had caused me to question my long-held assumption.
During his lecture Hingson quickly debunked that myth by showing us a graph from a study that reflected alcohol problems in the United States and Europe.
I believe it was rates of alcoholism in young adults. Would you be surprised to learn that the US had less of a problem than almost all European countries? I was!
In the Surgeons General Call To Action To Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking in 2007, there is research taken from the European School Survey Project which illustrates similar findings regarding binge drinking in 15 to 16 year-old Europeans.
While the US had about 15 percent who binged one to two times each month, and slightly less than ten percent who binged between three and ten times per month in that age group the United Kingdom had over 25 percent who did so one time per month and over 30 percent who binged three to ten times in the last 30 days.
Ireland, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands had significantly worse results than England. Of the total of 20 countries in the survey all of the rest exceeded the US in binge drinking except Turkey, which is, I believe, a predominantly Muslim country.
This survey includes France, Italy, Russia and the Ukraine, Greece, Switzerland and Sweden.
How about automobile fatalities? We experimented with lowering the drinking age in the 60’s and 70’s. The CDC data clearly shows us that the experiment was a failure.
All the research show is that when in the 80’s, when states went to a drinking age of 21, fatalities decreased in 16- 20 year-olds by 32 percent and in 21-24 year-olds by 18 percent.
I think that is a lot of lives and saved and that many families and friends have been spared an enormous amount of loss and grieving. I think that it is important to note that, few of MU students are old enough to have known these facts.
Conversely in 1999 New Zealand thought that lowering the drinking age from 20 -18 was a good idea but found that not only did alcohol-involved crash rate in 18 and 19 year olds rise by 12 percent but that in the 15-17 year olds there was a 14 percent increase in alcohol-involved crash rate for males and a 24 percent increase for females.
Currently, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada are all discussing increasing the age to 21. I just read in the New York Times that France is also considering raising their drinking age.
I have learned to listen to my “guts” and instincts when making important decisions but only after weighing the facts of the matter. Unless someone has information to the contrary this one remains a no-brainer for me. What do you think?