I’m an adult, in every way but one

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Over 80% of college students reported drinking. (Photo Credit: GasparSavage @DeviantArt.com)

In roughly three months I will turn 18 years old. As an official adult, I will be able to enlist in the military and potentially serve in combat. I will be able to vote for our country’s leaders. I will be able to smoke carcinogenic cigarettes while simultaneously gambling at a casino. Yet for some reason, I will not yet be considered mature enough to drink.

With the legal drinking age being 21, I come to the conclusion that the state and federal governments believe drinking requires a higher level of maturity than electing politicians; that choosing to risk your life in the military is an easier decision to make than whether or not to have a beer. This law, essentially prohibition for a select group of legal adults, flies in the face of logic. Obviously voting and serving is a thousand times more important than drinking, so why don’t our laws reflect that?

Even so, our current legal drinking age contradicts our values and views as a society. They actively push young adults, many of whom will unavoidably drink underage, underground. For example, isn’t it better for a college student to drink someplace legal like a bar rather than behind closed doors in dorm rooms? Isn’t it safer for a high school senior to drink legally when their parents are at home instead of waiting for them to go out of town? Forcing young adults, who are inevitably going to drink, to go to extreme lengths to cover up their drinking can be unsafe and even fatal. Consider the story of Gordie Bailey, who, during his first weeks at college, got alcohol poisoning while rushing a fraternity. Bailey ended up passing away because his friends didn’t want to “overreact” and call an ambulance because of the punishment they would all receive. We know that no one can ever stop drinking on college campuses, it’s inevitable, so right now, our drinking laws only make it more dangerous.

Schools need to educate teens on how to drink responsibly, what drinking may do to you, and how to deal with dangerous alcohol-related situations.”

This underground, underage drinking gives rise to one dangerous drinking habit in particular, binge drinking. The CDC claims that 90% of drinking done by underage adults and minors is in the form of binge drinking, which is drinking roughly 4 or 5 drinks in the span of two hours. This is preventable issue, one that naturally arises when people have their first drinks without supervision. By lowering the drinking age to 18 and educating teenagers about drinking, we can help prevent binge drinking and the around 185,000 alcohol-related emergency room visits it causes a year.

The argument against lowering the drinking age is mostly run by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD. MADD claims that the higher the drinking age, the lower the number of people between 18 and 21 who die in drunk driving accidents, and that’s statistically true. However that doesn’t wholly account for the almost 4,300 annual underage drinking deaths that are attributed to alcohol poisoning, falls or any other accidents that are related to alcohol— ignoring the fact that just because drunk driving deaths are down, doesn’t mean that underage drinking has gotten any less common, or any less dangerous.

The majority of problems that could arise with an 18 year old drinking age can be traced back to the lack of any substantial alcohol education in schools. We as a society don’t tell kids not to drive until they’re 16, then once they turn 16 just throw them the keys and say, ‘don’t crash.’ Our approach to alcohol should be the same. Schools need to educate teens on how to drink responsibly, what drinking may do to you, and how to deal with dangerous alcohol-related situations. Having students wear drunk goggles for one class period does nothing but trivialize the seriousness of driving under the influence.

When we as a country say that an 18 year old can vote, serve, get married and smoke at 18, but not drink, then we must come to the realization that our laws are insinuating the wrong messages. So, after I graduate next year, you can find me smoking, gambling and hanging around at strip clubs, but sadly, you won’t find me having a beer.