Drinking age debated at universities
August 30, 2008 2:19 PM
An 18-year-old may easily purchase a shot or two of vodka from a bar, should efforts by college presidents to lower the drinking age succeed.
A total of 123 college administrators from prominent schools all over the country like Dartmouth, Duke and Syracuse have signed a petition urging legislators to lower the drinking age from 21 to 18.
They claim that the drinking age of 21, which has been the legal drinking age in the U.S. since 1988, has not been effective in preventing binge drinking — defined as having five or more successive drinks — among college students.
“Twenty-one is not working,” reads the statement signed by the group. “A culture of dangerous, clandestine ‘binge drinking’ — often conducted off-campus — has developed.”
The petition aims to lower the risks and consequences caused by binge drinking among students below the age of 21.
But SF State President Robert Corrigan does not support the petition.
“There’s strong data indicating that alcohol consumption in those under age 21 can be harmful to personal health and safety, and strong evidence that youth under the influence can make poor choices that have harmful consequences,” he said.
Corrigan believes that “educating and training” students about dealing with alcohol is a better solution.
According to the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, a survey of college students in 2001 revealed that for students under age 21, 26 percent drove after drinking alcohol, more than 10 percent drove after consuming more than five drinks, and almost a quarter rode with a high or drunk driver at least once in the 30 days before the survey.
The center also says that the U.S. has the highest drinking age in the world.
Child and adolescent development professor Laurie Meschke believes that lowering the drinking age would be “detrimental to [underage] SFSU students” because of research on the brain development of adolescents.
“It’s pretty critical to look at brain development when it comes to this issue,” Meschke said. “Brain development continues at a rapid pace until the age of 22.”
The professor said in 18-year-olds, the brain’s frontal lobe is not yet fully developed, causing younger alcohol drinkers to have much lower inhibitions and preventing them from thinking of the long-term consequences of drinking — which is why the risk of alcohol-related accidents is higher among those under the age of 21.
She added that alcohol has a “much greater impact” on the memory of adolescents, so they are less likely to remember what they did under the influence of alcohol. They are still unable to judge their tolerance levels, which constantly change in people that age.
“They could have five drinks in one night and be perfectly fine,” Meschke said. “But if they had the same number of drinks on another night, they could get completely drunk.”
However, the professor also said that younger drinkers are less likely to have slurred speech or impaired mobility than those over the age of 21.
Numbers are also showing that drinking is no longer a major problem on college campuses. The UCLA Higher Education Research Institute released survey results showing that the number of college freshmen who drank beer in 2007 had decreased by 44 percent since 1982.
SF State students have mixed responses to the possibility of lowering the drinking age.
Jennifer Po, 17, feels that the drinking age should be lowered.
“I think it will desensitize the use of alcohol for future generations,” she said.
Because the current drinking age makes alcohol “forbidden” to teenagers, Po said, it makes them want to try drinking all the more. For her, the change in age restrictions would not keep her from getting drunk, but
“I would probably get so used to [drinking] that I eventually wouldn’t do it so much.”
However, other students feel differently.
“I would feel [cheated],” Kristi Gravano, 21, said. “It’s supposed to be special for 21-year-olds. I had to wait that long to drink. I don’t think [18-year-olds] are responsible enough, because even some 21-year-olds are not responsible enough with alcohol.”
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