21

I’m not dead set against lowering the drinking age, (see here) but I find it odd that in making the argument to lower the drinking age, John McCardell offers very troubling statistics without any serious interest in their cause:

at one major university, student visits to the emergency room for alcohol-related treatment have increased by 84 percent in the past three years. Between 1993 and 2001, 18-to-20-year-olds showed a 56 percent jump in the rate of heavy-drinking episodes. Underage drinkers now consume more than 90 percent of their alcohol during binges. These alarming rates have life-threatening consequences: each year, underage drinking kills some 5,000 young people and contributes to roughly 600,000 injuries and 100,000 cases of sexual assault among college students.

These increases occurred during a period with no changes in the legality of drinking for people under 21. Seems strange to blame the drinking age in that context, no? Particularly when countries with lower drinking ages are experiencing similar trends. One might argue that lowering the drinking age has little or no effect but, again, it seems inconsistent to blame it. Shouldn’t be more interested/curious/concerned about the causes of this?

Interestingly, a study suggests that the 21 drinking age reduces binge drinking except in college students.

New research from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has found substantial reductions in binge drinking since the national drinking age was set at 21 two decades ago, with one exception — college students. The rates of binge drinking in male collegians remains unchanged, but the rates in female collegians has increased dramatically. The report was published in the July issue of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Core message: The drinking age is having a beneficial impact; reducing it would be a mistake.

Again, begging the question, “What’s going on with college students to explain this ‘dramatic increase’ in recent years?”

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