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Lowering the drinking age: The Amethyst Initiative

February 10, 2009
by Rob Swindell
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I will be participating in a debate on the Amethyst Initiative (lowering the drinking age to 18) this Thursday at OberlinCollege at 4:30 p.m. While I cannot post my entire opening, I am posting the first few paragraphs about the drinking age itself. Any comments or suggestions would be welcome.

The drinking age debate is a difficult issue; there are many arguments and perspectives that, at least on some level, make some sense. However, before we discuss age as a matter of comparison to other privileges, we need to have a philosophical discussion as to why there is an age requirement at all.

At its core, this issue can be simply defined as the age in which the privilege to drink is balanced with society’s interest to minimize the harm cause by drinking. This interest includes the desire to be safe on our highways and the responsibility of society to see that our children are both safe and healthy.

This balance rests arbitrarily with the age of individuals and their ability to drink responsibly. In reality, this age is different for everyone, as for example, maybe some sixteen year olds could be entrusted with the privilege of drinking, while, conversely, there are many people much older that still cannot act responsibly.

Drinking, particularly binge drinking, is often a factor in a number of social ills- most of which are well known. Drinking can be deadly, either through the actions of the drunkard, such as drunk driving, or, on the individual, through the over-ingestion of alcohol. It is also responsible for other social ills, such as rape and unwanted pregnancies, assault and battery, theft and vandalism. I think it is safe to say that if there were a drug developed today in a capsule form that had the same side effects as drinking it would never be approved.

Equipping individuals with a drug capable of inducing such harm is an important societal responsibility. And as much as the argument will be made that kids are drinking already, secretly, it does not mean that society’s interest in doing what is right has been terminated. There are alternatives to “throwing in the towel.”

Is 21 the right age? I don’t know for sure, but I am here to argue that 18 is not. Maybe the right age is 25, an age when insurance companies will insure car rentals, Or 35, the age in which someone can be president?

Without doubt, there are many rites of passage associated with turning 18—primarily based upon the finishing of high school. It is the age that we enter the next segment of our lives, whether it is entering the workforce, going to college or enlisting in the military. It is our first taste of being an adult and making those decisions that will affect the rest of our lives. It is also a time of incredible inexperience.



Some interesting thoughts here, Rob. Perhaps the real way to reduce all the problems associated with excessive alcohol consumption is to reduce our culture's glorification of alcohol, such as has been done with tobacco.

Rob Swindell

Rob Swindell



Rob Swindell is the Associate Director of the Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services (ADAS) Board...

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