Guest opinion

Why won’t lower drinking ages work in the U.S.?

Why won’t lower drinking ages work in the U.S.?

The easiest answer to this question is that we have created our own social customs surrounding drinking. While individuals from other countries have passed on their more casual attitude toward alcohol consumption, the “taboo” nature in America has caused us to see underage drinking as being “daring” in its own way.

Because we are doing something that we know we should not be doing, we binge, we get drunk, we show off. It is the same response a child would have when knowingly breaking the rules—he secretly disobeys the person who would punish him, then brags to his friends.

One thing America does best is ignore the successes of other countries in areas where we have problems, such as alcohol-related auto accidents. I had the pleasure of meeting three men from Germany, where the drinking age is 16. Despite the younger age at which you can consume alcohol, accident rates related to alcohol consumption are lower than in the U.S.

In the 1990s, the percentage of accidents involving alcohol was only around 10 percent in Germany, whereas it remained between 40 and 50 percent in the U.S.

Imagine a 50-person wing in one of the campus dorms you probably stayed in your freshman year. In Germany, five people would have had an accident in your wing. Here, it would have been you or your roommate.

Their solution: Make driver’s licenses harder to get, not raise the drinking age. Of the three that I met, only one obtained a license. Extensive testing and several classes were required before consideration.

Since many do not get their driver’s license in the first place, alcohol-related auto accidents are reduced.

The second component to implementing a change is to change our current ideas about drinking.

Countries with lower or no minimum drinking ages provide a different connotation to drinking. For instance, they choose to have a glass of wine with dinner or a couple of beers at happy hour, not going out on a Saturday night to “get trashed” or black out.

A culture surrounds alcohol consumption. The consumed beverages are not the focus of a social event and because of this, substances that are considered taboo in the U.S. can be used freely because these beliefs are held.

Sadly, the U.S. is too far gone to change to these beliefs. Alcohol being a “dangerous” substance has become so socially ingrained in the public that a new set of laws lowering the legal age would result in chaos—people who would finally be able to drink would indulge themselves in this new freedom.

The best solution is to educate the youth. Explain to them the more social nature behind alcohol. Tell them that it is not about being “so wasted” but enjoying the company that comes with sitting around and having a beer.

* This article originally appeared in The Daily Barometer. It has been edited for brevity.