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Lowering the Drinking Age Misses the Point

February 23, 2009
by Ron Hunsicker
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On Feb 22, 2009 on the CBS TV program 60 Minutes, the debate about lowering the drinking age continued as a segment on this program, hosted by Ms. Lesley Stahl presented the arguments for why it was not working to having the legal drinking age at 21. The argument for lowering the drinking age was primarily presented by Mr. John McCardell the former president of MiddleburyCollege in Vermont and Mr. Mark Beckner, the chief of police in Boulder, CO. The argument of both of these individuals was that the current situation was not working on college campus. Because it is not possible or ineffective to enforce the current drinking age, the argument has been to lower the drinking age and then push the responsibility and liability to another segment of our society. When will we stop pushing the issue to someone else instead of looking squarely at the responsibility side?

Granted, this is a very complex issue and simple solutions will do little to effectively address the issue. To simply lower the drinking age will not solve anything! Likewise, to keep the drinking age at 21 and to ignore the carnage which is taking place in our society is also equally irresponsible! At the very least there is a ton of irresponsible drinking going on and there are alcoholics who are in the process of killing themselves with their drinking be it legal or illegal.

On the recently aired 60 Minutes McCardell suggested that every college student needed to take a course in alcohol and the chemistry of this drug and only if they passed it would they be granted a “drinking license”. On the surface this might have some merit. However, if college campuses do not want to enforce the underage drinking now, who is going to enforce the drinking license? It does not sound like the police chief of Boulder, CO has any interest in this.

But it might be a beginning. What if every one needed to take a course in alcohol and alcoholism? What if everyone needed to take a course in the effect of alcohol on the brain? What if everyone was screened for their predisposition toward alcoholism? What if everyone was tested for blood alcohol levels at major public events? What if major piece of machinery (including cars and trucks) were equipped with sensors that would make it impossible to start if the operator tested higher than a normal blood alcohol level? We screen for Cancer, we screen for diabetes, we screen for heart disease. It is too much to ask that we screen for alcoholism as well?

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I am very supportive of getting the "debate" going. However, we need to move the debate away from age and focus on the drug of alcohol just as we did on tobacco.

You raise some good points, Ron! I think binge drinking will not significantly decrease until it is viewed as socially unacceptable behavior. This will involve the type of long-term public education campaign that has made smoking a decreasingly tolerated activity (even in bars!).

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Ron Hunsicker

http://www.naatp.org

Ronald J. Hunsicker, DMin, is President/CEO of the National...