Thursday, July 16, 2009

Lowering Drinking Age Won't Make Binge Drinking Go Away

Last August over 100 college presidents signed a letter asking legislators across the U.S. to lower the drinking age from 21 to 18 because they believe it’s impossible to stop young people from drinking. Called “The Amethyst Initiative” the coalition includes college presidents from Johns Hopkins, the University of Maryland, Washington and Lee, Colgate, Syracuse, Sweet Briar, Duke, Tufts, Dartmouth, and other schools. The group insists with a higher legal drinking age, binge drinking on college campuses has gotten progressively worse.

Fast-forward 11 months to the July 12 editorial in The Washington Post that maintained a lower drinking age won’t stop binge drinking. As a recent study published in the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry noted, the higher drinking age has led to a decrease in binge drinking nationwide, with the exception of college campuses.

Lowering the drinking age won’t make binge drinking disappear, on college campuses or otherwise, a fact The Amethyst Initiative appears to ignore. They also disregard that binge drinking typically results in acute intoxication which can be detrimental to a person’s health in a number of ways:
• Brain function is impaired, resulting in poor judgment, reduced reaction time, loss of balance and motor skills, or slurred speech.
• Blood vessels dilute causing a feeling of warmth but resulting in rapid loss of body heat.
• Alcohol intoxication increases the risk of certain cancers, stroke, and liver disease (such as cirrhosis) when excessive amounts of alcohol are consumed over an extended period of time.
• Alcohol consumption also poses risks to pregnant women and their developing fetus.
• Alcohol consumption increases the risk of motor-vehicle traffic crashes, violence, and other injuries.
• Binge drinking can also result in death.
As illustrated by the Pierson family in my novel, Shades of Darkness, Shades of Grace, binge drinking as an adolescent can lead to deeper alcohol problems as an adult. So instead of complaining about the higher drinking age, college administrators might do well to put more thought and effort into enforcing it.

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