The XX Factor

Old Enough to Fight, Old Enough to Vote … You Know the Rest

Does anyone really think the drinking age should be 21 any more? Binge drinking hasn’t gone down-in fact, it’s up among college students. Former proponents of the 21 law admit it hasn’t worked. It’s been a year since 135 college presidents first petitioned the government to reconsider. Why is 21 such a tough genie to put back in the bottle?

I drank in college. In those heady days, the drinking age had just been raised, and most of our local bar owners considered it a crock. My fake ID and I had much the same time we would have had if the drinking age were still 18, with the added thrill of a little mild law-breaking. Bar owners, parents, and colleges take the drinking age far more seriously now. They have to-the penalties for allowing underage drinking have increased substantially. Meanwhile, something else has increased- binge drinking among college students .

Raising the drinking age did little to end adolescent drinking, and although some credit it with lowering alcohol-related driving fatalities, many others put that decrease down to increased education and awareness. Meanwhile, teen drinking moved underground. College students, in particular, find places to “pre-load”-drinking before a social event, then heading out with their buzz on. Ask an honest college partier, and she may tell you she believes she has time to drive to the party before the alcohol hits her bloodstream. The result, as Middlebury college president emeritus John McCardle said yesterday in a CNN editorial, is that 60 percent of the deaths each year associated with underage drinking occur off-road, often the result of binge drinking gone terribly wrong.

On the other hand, education does reduce the rate of binge drinking among both younger teens and college students . If the goal of U.S. alcohol policy is the safety of its citizens, why not replace a law that encourages dangerous behavior with a policy of education on responsibility? If we’re honest, getting around a law they perceive as unjust and hypocritical just makes drinking more fun for many students. Replacing that thrill with a “drinking license ” or programs like eChug that educate about the risks and responsibilities of drinking might help lessen the buzz in more ways than one.