Amethyst Initiative and Underage Drinking
21. The number is an icon. We all think of one thing when we see it. Twenty-one is the age when, for some, the frustrating teenage years of trying to get a sip of that prohibited beverage is over. However, many are concerned that this thirst for alcohol has made those under 21 yearn too much for it, ultimately causing them to binge drink, which can have dire consequences. On the other hand, others believe before the 21, drinking alcohol can have dire consequences on a person's brain. In 2009, a vote in Congress will take place that will affect the major concern of the 21 age drinking law.
The harmful effects that drinking can cause to the brain is the main concern of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, a non-profit organization who aims to stop drinking and driving, as well as limit underage drinking. MADD NY Executive Director Donna Kopec explained that science indicates that the brain matures by the age of 21, and that drinking before this time can have a severe impact on the brain that cannot be reversed.
"21 is the magic number," said Kopec. "When you wait to drink until you are 21, there is a better chance of the brain fully forming."
Opponents of the 21 drinking age law, Choosing Responsibly, a non-profit organization, states that studies show that, in general, the brain is affected by how much alcohol someone drinks in his or her lifetime, not the age the person starts drinking.
Another debate involved with this issue is the fact that many other countries have a drinking age lower than 21. In fact, the United States is only one of four countries worldwide, along with Indonesia, Mongolia and Palau, that has a drinking age limit as high as 21. Some countries even have legal drinking ages as low as 16. David Harris, an Ithaca College student who lived in Holland (where the legal drinking age is 16) for many years before coming to college in the States, stated that he noticed many teens there drank alcohol in a much more responsible way than teens do here.
According to their MADD's website, however, they claim that European teens have higher death rates due to drinking.
"There are countries looking to go back to 21 [because] they found significant evidence that the 21 age law saves about 1000 lives per year - 20,000 since 1984," Kopec said.
As to saving lives, according to Choose Responsibility's website, more lives have been saved because of seat belt enforcement laws, as well as legally requiring air bags, the fact that the legal BAC level has been lowered, and that breathalyzer technology has become more efficient.
Since there are so many contradictory statistics when it comes to the 21 drinking age law, Amethyst Initiative, an organization made up of chancellors and presidents of colleges and universities across the U.S., believes that there should be an open discussion about the drinking age law. Currently, 130 college chancellors and presidents have signed the Initiative.
"We should have a discussion and look at all the data that exists on the drinking age and its effects," said Kevin Quinn, vice president of public affairs at Syracuse University, whose chancellor Nancy Cantor has signed the Initiative.
President Tom Rochon of Ithaca College, however, chose not to sign the Initiative.
"The first line of the Initiative's mission statement states that the 21 drinking age law is not working - that's not a statement I'm willing to fully support," Rochon said. "I would though have an open discussion on it."
Though all the statistics, facts, and studies on the 21 drinking age law presented by the different representatives seem to conflict, the main concern about the law is the psychology associated with it - which some think is being overlooked.
"Since they are not able to get it on a regular basis, underage students think about when is the next time they are going to have access to alcohol." Quinn said, "So they drink as much as they can."
Many students agree that the high drinking age doesn't curb drinking.
"The age restriction for drinking doesn't stop people under the age of 21 from drinking," freshman Lauren Finneran of Stockton College said. "It simply forces them to do it in a more dangerous way that ends up hurting them."
Harris agreed that the law definitely plays a part in how teens act concerning alcohol.
"The law makes kids have to be more sly," Harris said. "Then you become so trained that by the time your 21, everyone is taking those 21 shots because they've been so repressed."
Other students disagree on the matter.
"Until Americans can prove that they understand and respect the harmful effects of underage drinking, there is no reason to change the legal age," said freshman Matt Gerber of University of Pennsylvania "We have a social responsibility to leave it where it is."
MADD also recognizes the problem of binge drinking. Kopec, however, said, "When you look at all binge drinking from 18-21 it predominately occurs on college campuses because the drinking culture on these campuses supports the culture of binge drinking. Often times police or bar owners have trouble enforcing the law because so many students are breaking it."
If this is true, colleges are faced with the challenge of changing the harmful culture that brews on campus.
"Increasing the beer tax has shown to be the most effective way to reduce drinking," said Kopec. "Also tackling the false ID problem - perhaps requiring two IDs."
"We can raise awareness through education like we do," said Rochon. "However, there is no solution in making the problem just go away."
"I think the key to coming to a better solution to underage drinking is to continue talk on its efficiency," said Finneran. "No discussion leads to any debate, which ultimately leads to no change."
With such a serious issue, and such a nearing ability to change a law that has been in place for 24 years, Americans may want to think twice before pushing the issue aside.