Live-blogging Midmorning: Time to lower the drinking age?

We’re live blogging this morning’s Midmorning conversation on the suggestion by a group of college presidents to lower the drinking age.

We discussed this on News Cut earlier in the week and I”ll be relaying some of your comments. But we hope you’ll join us in this space during today’s show and react to what you hear.

I believe this is the first time Jack R. Ohle, the president of Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, has spoken publicly on the issue. Other guests include: John McCardell: founder of Choose Responsibility and author of the Amethyst Initiative, which calls for a renewed debate on the legal drinking age. The initiative has been signed by the presidents of 114 colleges; Lynn Goughler: vice chair of public policy for MADD Minnesota; and Tracey Toomey: director of the alcohol epidemiology program at the University of Minnesota.

9:10 a.m. – The point that McCardell is addressing is the idea that a younger drinking age will lead people to learn how to drink responsibly. But here’s my question: How does one learn to drink responsibly? Julie in comments notes a daughter at school has learned. How?

9:11 a.m. – Kerri asks a good question: Is this an attempt to address the “discrimination” of being allowed to serve in a war, but not being allowed to drink legally. And if that’s the case — and this is originating from Vermont, after all — is this more anti-war, or anti binge-drinking in nature. Is this, for example, like the attempt by some in Congress to reintroduce the draft. They didn’t want the draft restored, they wanted to end a war.

9:13 a.m. – I just know someone is going to talk about how much smarter Europe is about youth drinking. Is it? The BBC reported last November, “The number of people in their late teens and early 20s being treated for alcohol-related illnesses is growing.” What’s a growing problem in Europe: Binge drinking.

However, Sweden has reportedly seen a decline in teen drinking since it joined the EU and alcohol became more available in neighboring countries:

For 2007 the statistics suggest that more than 30% of the students claim that they do not drink alcohol. This is up from 20% non-drinking 15 to 16-year-olds in the late 1990s.

9:18 A vet calls. Says his National Guard unit was deployed to Europe and says the big job was trying to prevent drunk driving among servicemembers.

Lynn Goughler of MADD says the debate shouldn’t be just lowering the drinking age to 18. When the drinking age was increased to 21, she says, it was the most studied public health question of the day.

McCardell says alcohol-related fatalities are going up, so raising the drinking to 21 didn’t work.

Here’s the data in Minnesota. This site says the number of alcohol related deaths in Minnesota in 2006 was half of what it was in 1982.

9:26 – Goughler says the debate has to be a recognition we have a drinking problem among teens, now what do we do about it. McCardell says what you don’t do is accuse college presidents of breaking the law and bully presidents from taking their names off the letter.

9:29 – Three of the comments just got mentioned on the air. Hoping to continue the discussion here after the show. Meanwhle, Goughler and McCardell are continuing to beat each other up.

9:33 – Jason just posted an interesting comment. The idea of “zero tolerance” for drunk driving.

In Romania, where I spend a lot of time, there is zero tolerance for drinking and driving, and it works. In Romania a person will lose his/her license if they are driving even after only one drink. Here, we allow people to drink until their BAC is up to .08, something most of us can’t even measure ourselves. Drinking alcohol is a part of the culture in Romania, yet there is very little drunk driving. Why do I rarely hear MADD address zero tolerance?

Nichole has a perspective on the “if you’re young enough to go to war…” argument:

Arguing that 18 year olds should be drinking because they can go to war is like arguing that fifteen-year-olds should be stripping because some of them are having sex.

9:40 a.m. – Jack Ohle of Gustavus joins us now, along with Tracie Toomey: director of the alcohol epidemiology program at the University of Minnesota. She was at the MPR UBS Forum discussion on binge drinking a few months ago.

Ohle says he doesn’t neceassarily agree with changing the law, but he does think it’s time to have the debate. But he doesn’t believe lowering the drinking age will have a positive impact on his campus in St. Peter.

Toomey says they’ve tried to get college presidents involved in this discussion for years.

9:46 a.m. – An 18 year old, Ross, calls to say if the only role alcohol has is in a “binge drinking role,” then it will be used to binge drink.

9:52 a.m. – Ohle says he’s “excited” that we’re having the debate and says he’s “surprised” that more college presidents haven’t signed the letter calling for the debate. Kerri points out that he’s also one of the few college presidents who would talk to us about the subject. Ohle says he’s seen high-risk drinking going up on college campuses, even as general consumption of alcohol goes down. He says the discussion should be held openly.

9:56 a.m. – I’m reminded that in Wisconsin, underage people can get served in a restaurant if they’re with their parents. Wisconsin is among the leaders in binge drinking. Is there a connection? Do Wisconsin parents provide a more responsible approach to drinking, and — if so — why doesn’t it show up in the statistics? BTW, here’s an article from the Journal Sentinel of Milwaukee a couple of years ago looking back on the effect of a higher drinking age.

Final comment come from Bill by e-mail:

I have been often troubled with the eighteen year olds going off to war. Brain studies show that they are not mature enough to make a live and death decision like that. I am also discouraged by the small voter turn out of young voters.

So, I suggest the subject for debate be raising the age for voting and military service to twenty-one. That should send a clear message that kids are not old enough to die in service or become stinking drunk.

Let’s keep chatting in the comments section!

  • Julie

    I’m happy that the idea to lower the drinking age is *finally* taking hold. My daughter attends college in Canada, where the drinking age is 18. Part of what she’s learned her first year is to drink responsibly: college activities include beer tents, and students who drink to excess are dealt with in a controlled environment, visible to all their peers, and the stupidity resulting from drunkenness becomes a warning sign for other students.

    Her brother attended U.S. college, and he remembers his first-year experience, where getting “trashed” was a rite of passage, as was hiding your drunkenness from the RA and the campus police. His roommate was an especially sad case: he ended up dropping out after his first semester, mainly due to not attending class because he was so hung over so often. What that poor young man learned at college was how to lie and how to evade responsibility.

  • Mikhail

    I grew up in a Russian family where alcohol was always an integral part of any celebration. By the time I got to college I had plenty of experience of how to drink responsibly. Alcohol is most dangerous when it is in the hands of kids that feel free to drink for the first time and don’t know how to handle themselves.

  • R

    Doesn’t this transfer the burden from colleges to high schools?

    Additionally, brain research shows that the brain does not finish developing completely until mid 20’s – is this setting up our culture for future negative issues?

  • Here’s my rambling thoughts.

    We live in an age of “explicit puritanism.” By this, I mean that our media have plenty of ads advertising “vice”, and yet our society pushes back from allowing people, especially teenagers and young adults, from having *any* contact with it.

    Is it any wonder that impulsive young people have the opportunity to indulge at last–they overindulge?

    Sports games are filled with advertisements for beer and alcohol, and yet we expect by law that no one consumes alcohol until the age of 21. Is it any wonder that college students, away from their parents for the first time, drink to excess?

    If we could change our culture to allow a more gradual and responsible exposure to things like alcohol, college students would be far less likely to go “hog wild” at their first opportunity with a “taboo substance”.

  • Adam

    As a college professor, I think that this makes perfect sense. As someone who was also raised in a home where alcohol was not demonized but respected (father is from eastern europe), the cultural discussion was there. This is what needs to happen – a cultural re-education about responsibility rather than a blanket demonization.

  • Nate

    Although I think lowering the drinking age may help reduce the problem slightly, it will not do much to stop underage binge drinking. The main problem lies in the fact that in this country, alcohol is seen only as an intoxicant, and not something that can be enjoyed responsibly in moderation. To have a serious impact, alcohol responsibility would need to be learned at a much younger age. I think removing the drinking age entirely in restaurants when in the company of adults would do far more.

    I don’t hear France saying too many kids are drinking wine, or in Germany kids are drinking too much beer. These drinks are central to the countries’ culture, and they have learned to drink them responsibly.That being said, there will always be people who will drink to excess. The difference between the US and Europe is that they have well developed public transportation, whereas the US’s are limited to bigger cities. Drinking and driving is not a symptom of underage drinking, rather one of the United States unique geography.

  • Karen

    While I agree that 21 is not the answer, as a teacher at a boarding high school I worry about the ramifications of making 18 the legal age. Right now college students who are under 18-20 can easily get alcohol from students who are over 21. If you lower the age to 18 you will be making it considerably easier for students who are 14-17 to gain access to alcohol.

  • Madeleine

    My 19 year old friend attends a college in California where the college actually supplies the dorms full of underage students with kegs. How can this be legally allowed?

    PS It’s my older sister’s 21st (and golden) birthday today and I’m worried she may go overboard.

  • Mark

    I have only one concern regarding realigning the drinking age to 18. Many students reach majority when in high school. I remember seeing students going out for liquid lunch with the schools hands being partially tied by the legality of age 18. There was a time during my college years where in Minnesota the drinking age was 19. This made sense to me. It brought opportunity to, as your guest just said, bring drinking out in the open while keeping the rules clean for secondary schools.

  • Alison

    How much of this is pushed on us by the same morality police who have declared that we can’t buy alcohol in grocery stores or on Sunday? The alcohol debate reminds of the abortion debate. If outright prohibition isn’t possible, then numerous little laws are created to make it more difficult.

  • colman

    I lived in Germany from 1999 to 2005. German teens usually learn the effects of drinking (around the average age of 14 to 16) before they learn to drive at age 18. This seems to make much more sense. Germans usually have their first experiences with drinking with their parents or relatives. This also makes sense and I noticed that by the time Germans reach 21, they seem much more responsible about drinking (and driving) than Americans. Their driving liscense costs about $1800 and if they drink and drive they lose their liscense. A very expensive lesson.

  • Donald

    Teenage drinking needs to come from the shadows and be handled in a responsible manner. Rather using fear tactics to keep minors from drinking we need to speak openly about the truths of consuming alcohol. There are plenty of opportunities for people as young as 14 to encounter alcohol and far more opportunities for their parents and the community on a whole to speak to them about consuming alcohol before they walk into that first encounter.

  • Nichole Colsch

    As a teacher of high school seniors, the potential harm from a lower drinking age scares me speechless. I’ve walked into rooms where desks are empty because kids were killed in alcohol related car accidents after a weekend of partying. If ANYONE thinks binge drinking will decrease as we make alcohol more widely available to YOUNGER kids, they are completely deluded. Binge drinking, unfortunately, is a part of American youth culture, and that won’t stop just because we invite younger kids to the party. Learning to drink responsibly is something that happens from birth through good parenting and strong leadership; it doesn’t magically happen once 18 year old kids are allowed to buy a beer.

    Sure, an 18 year old soldier can’t legally have a beer. So how about we keep KIDS, many of whom brain research has shown do not have the ability to understand the long-term consequences of their behavior, OUT of the military and OUT of war.

    Arguing that 18 year olds should be drinking because they can go to war is like arguing that fifteen-year-olds should be stripping because some of them are having sex.

    The bottom line is that study after study has shown that a higher drinking age DROPS the rate of alcohol related deaths. Believe it or not, some kids DO follow the law. So why invite them to make unhealthy decisions legally?

    BOTTOM LINE: This is an effort by colleges to avoid responsibility for enforcing the law on their campuses. Do we really want HIGH SCHOOLERS legally getting wasted after coming home from school??

  • Julie A

    Having been born and raised in a country where the legal drinking age is 18, I fully support dropping the drinking age in this country to 18. I moved to the United States when I was 20 years old and when I arrived I noticed that not only where all the kids under 18 drinking anyway, they had also never had the topic broached with them. I think making it so illigal and there is no discussion in highschool about drinking that kids think of it as some sort of rebellion. I was raised with parents that made drinking open and honest and responsible. I never thought of drinking as a rebellion or something that i wanted to BINGE on as most of my peers when I first moved here did. And then on top of that, there is the age discrimination. All in all, I beleive the reason drinking is out of controll is because of lack of dialogue.

  • Allie

    I believe that (as a college student) colleges are not doing enough to enforce and regulate underage drinking. On my campus this takes the form of “turning the other cheek”- college authorities, RAs, campus security, and even local law enforcement seem to ignore the problem rather than deal with it directly. I don’t know if lowering the drinking age would change anything at all- there are college students who drink and there are those who don’t- regardless of the legally imposed but rarely enforced “age limit”.

  • Kristina

    When I was a minor in college, knowing I couldn’t legally buy alcohol myself influenced the type of alcohol I drank.

    When I wanted to drink, I was more likely to obtain stronger alcohols like vodka or rum because I felt I’d need to “stock up” if I wanted to drink with my friends. If I had been able to buy my own drinks, I’d have preferred the better tasting and lower alcohol content craft beers and wines that I drink now. These are healthier and by far less associated with “binge” drinking.

  • Russ

    Having grown up and went to school in a Canadian province where the drinking age is 18, I found there were fewer “coming of age” traditions involving binge drinking.

    Since all university students could already purchase alcohol, binge drinking was looked upon as being immature, and people who partook in binge drinking were treated as outcasts.


  • Adam

    I think Mark’s point is actually a good one. I see 18 being the “magic number,” but 19 may also makes sense, particularly for the K-12 environment. Having said that, it was still very easy for me, in high school, to get alcohol if I wanted it. The two years difference was not much of a deterrent.

  • Kathy Marshall Emerson

    This discussion needs to include two important topics.

    1. The vast majority of 21 year olds are not college students. Do we want 18 year olds easily drinking in highly disadvantaged, poor dangerous communities? The presidents are not in a position to speak for that situation. Law enforcement voices would be informative.

    2. Professors of education and child development need to be included to expose the very solid science that now proves that youth and young adult brain development continues to age 25. There is strong evidence cited by the US Surgeon General that excessive drinking in this crucial period actually physically damages the brain. Do these presidents have the support of reserachers in these two critical areas? No responsible eduacator could support anything that endangers healthy brain development.

    I am from the University of Minnesota and have spent more than 25 years working with community based alcohol and other drug prevention.

  • Sherry

    It’s not the role of colleges to police the personal behavior of their students. Uphold the law yes but lets get real, the problem with binge drinking starts well outside the college campus and has to do with our culture. I grew up in a home where we consumed wine on special occasions beginning in highschool. When I went to college we had an 18 year drinking age and as someone that teaches at a college today I can’t say that banning alcohol has made a difference. Not to mention the age discrimination issue. If you can die in Iraq at 18, if you can vote (our greatest civic obligation) then you should also be responsible enough to make decisions about alcohol consumption

  • Nate

    I agree completely with colman. When I was living in Germany, it was far more common to see groups of loud belligerent Americans than nationals. I always felt a little embarrassed when the loud, obviously drunk, Americans were on the U-bahn.

  • Julie

    You asked how my daughter learned about responsible drinking: it’s a combination of at least two things:

    1) a lifetime of learning to make good decisions because of how we parented her and her brother

    2) a yearlong experience drinking without having to sneak around, drinking socially in an environment where *thinking and learning* are the core activities of the institution. Keeping the experience of drinking makes it available for analysis and learning, the primary thing she’s practicing at her university.

    I also teach at a college, and when there’s a culture of prohibition, some people will expend tremendous energy subverting the prohibition. Our culture rewards figuring out how to get around rules (ask any gamer — or politician!!).

  • Anne

    I really feel like we need to make it “uncool” or disgusting to be binge drinking. It seems like this plan worked for getting people to stop smoking and not even seem very appealing to start the habit.

  • Sanna Towns

    I’m presently looking at a website called the International Center for Alcoholic Policies, and the vast majority of countries in the world legalize drinking at the age of 18, some countries at 16. There doesn’t appear to be a problem of binge drinking and driving while drunk in these countries. Is there something wrong with U.S. 18 year olds? I don’t think so. Maybe the discussion should be about responsible drinking.

  • Jason

    I could never understand why we are so intolerant of 18 – 20 year old adults drinking, yet we are so tolerant of drunk driving.

    In Romania, where I spend a lot of time, there is zero tolerance for drinking and driving, and it works. In Romania a person will lose his/her license if they are driving even after only one drink. Here, we allow people to drink until their BAC is up to .08, something most of us can’t even measure ourselves. Drinking alcohol is a part of the culture in Romania, yet there is very little drunk driving. Why do I rarely hear MADD address zero tolerance?

  • Mickey

    It seems to me that this is really a political question. If 18 year olds would start to exercise their political power and show up at the polls in greater numbers then I believe the politicians would stop ignoring them or treating them with such condescension.

  • Mark

    What type of drinking do we as a culture model to our students? I would contend that we have a subculture of all ages that binge drink often especiall her in the upper midwest. That likely has more influence on the outcomes of students than the actual drinking age.

  • I agree that 19 seems the logical choice as well. It does more to keep alcohol out of high schools, but would still be fine on colleges. It seems like the most logical age to me, so long as you’re not hung up on the other things that happen at 18.

    I do have a hard time shedding a tear too much for the plight of these college administrators, though, especially because the problems are caused by a few people who can’t exercise self-control. Marijuana is a substance that is safer than alcohol (you can’t kill yourself smoking dope), is enjoyed responsibly by a huge segment of the population, yet remains illegal. The war on drugs, specifically focusing on pot, causes untold amounts of social and financial harm, due to stress on law enforcement, the criminal justice system, etc… Where’s the Midmorning discussion on that?

  • Christopher Tabor

    There is one problem I never hear MADD address when they are citing the fact that changing the drinking age to 21 lowered the amount of drinking and driving deaths. Around the same time the law was changed, we started to see a campaign to raise the public’s awareness of the problem of drinking and driving. We also started to see the first laws against drinking and driving being passed and enforced. Didn’t these things have as much or more effect on alcohol related traffic deaths as raising the drinking age?

  • Ellen Crump

    No oneis addressing the developing brain. There is medical evidence that the “under 25 year-old brain” has a different chemical make up than “older than 25 year-old brain.” This chemical make up is more receptive to the chemicals in alcohol, thus leading to a higher risk of addiction.

    This is biology and it can’t be argued with. Legal drinking age needs to be discussed in this context – biology is something that cannot be changed, but behavior is.

  • Donald Coe

    THe real question is how do we teach our children to drink responsibly? The comment that changing a law will not solve the problem is correct. But MADD’s assumption is that having a law will solve the problem. Our problem is that our children are not being taught to drink responsibly. That is more likely to happen if people can learn to drink at home than it will if they start drinking either in college or after college when they have no one to set the boundaries. Germany, for example, has a very low drinking age — 16. But they also have a great public transport system that helps to decrease the likelyhood of drunked driving.

  • Josh

    It seems to me to be somewhat simple in many cases: how can you expect youth to respect alcohol if adults around them do not? I think the idea of being raised in a family where alcohol is enjoyed and respected is the most effective way to reduce binge drinking, but in my experience, many families sway towards nearly no alcohol, or way too much. I think both situations lead to heavy drinking in college for different reasons. Kids raised by alcoholics are going to drink, but likewise, when I went to college, the kids that had a zero tolerance policy in high school were the ones that really got into trouble in college.

  • Sophie

    I am an 18 year old. I just graduated from high school and I can attest to the fact that students as young as 14 have no problem getting alcohol. Lowering the drinking age or keeping it the same isn’t going to solve the problem. We need to change the American cultural view of alcohol to see progress.

  • Jack

    The problem with that, Mickey, is that no politicians seem to be willing to take on this issue. How can you vote for the politician in favor of lowering the drinking age when none of them have taken on the issue?

    There’s a stigma against lowering the drinking age, caused by the federal government bullying the states as they so often do. I am very, very happy with the college presidents’ decision to raise this issue since it’s really hard for regular citizens to break into a “cold” issue.

    Lastly, I’m very disappointed with MADD’s representative for making baseless claims about “many studies” without citing a single point in her favor. Here’s something new – claiming something is true means nothing if you can’t back it up. Just saying “there’s a study” doesn’t make it true.

  • Zeb

    I will pick up on something Jason said. We tell kids they can’t drink because they can’t handle the responsibility, but American adults can’t handle it either! There should be zero tolerance for drunk drivers. Offenders should be punished severely. The real problem here is the prevalence of binge drinking among adults. Where do you think kids are learning this from?

  • Stephanie

    If the drinking age is lowered (and I believe it should be lowered to 19 to keep it out of high schools), people should expect an initial burst of out-of-control drinking, probably for a few months, until those newly of age get used to their new liberties. I experienced something like this myself when I went to Spain on a school trip when I was 16. The first couple weeks of the trip, many students on the trip overdid the alcohol. Thereafter, however, the availability of alcohol just became a fact of our lives in Spain–in essence, no big deal. The amount of excessive drinking dropped off considerably. The U.S. has a rather Puritanical approach to alcohol, which I believe creates an atmosphere of “forbidden fruit.” I believe the solution lies in allowing parents to educate their children on consuming alcohol responsibly and maturely.

  • Amie K

    I think the biggest issue with underage drinking isn’t the age but the social taboos. I agree compleatly with a few of the other posters on learning how to drink within the family and learning how to be responsible at an early age.

    I grew up with both sides of the spectrum. My mother’s side is very strict with drinking laws and growing up I was never allowed even a sip of wine at family gatherings. It was simply stated “you cannot drink, it’s the law”. My father’s side however is much more open about it. I was taught at a very early age what alcohol is, how it is consumed, and why it is consumed. I attribute by lack of binge drinking in high school and college to learning these things early on. It was never a taboo subject on my father’s side and therefore the mystery behind alcohol diminished. There was never an appeal to “get smashed” and I was always more prepared than my other friends.

    Now not to say that releasing the taboos is the direct correlation between alcoholism but just to strengthen my point the rules have always been this way on both sides of my family; there are 3 recovering alcoholics in my mothers imediate family and none in my fathers. I think that says a lot about social taboos and glamorization that occurs when alcohol isn’t talked about in a family setting.

    (I am 23)

  • Eric

    I am a recent graduate of Gustavus (2007), and I spent my freshman year of college at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. During my time at Gustavus, I also had the opportunity to work for Residential Life, the administrative unit within Gustavus which focuses on a student’s life in the residence halls. Since the vast majority of Gustavus students spend all four years on campus living in school-owned residence halls, this means that the vast majority of Gustavus students have to deal with the rules and regulations of the school regarding alcohol even when they are 21 years old.

    My experience has shown me that drinking is a problem on college campuses, and that the way schools like Gustavus handle drinking, either underage or of age, is a huge factor in why drinking is so abundant on the Gustavus campus. At UMD, students have to deal with real legal issues when they are caught drinking underage – police officers give real tickets, and students are responsible, legally, for their actions. At Gustavus, students might be fined or have to go through a closed-door judiciary process, but ultimately there is no legal action taken unless a student is caught multiple times or is found to be in such a stupor that they are transported to a local Detox center.

    For me, the drinking age ought to be lowered to 18, but that’s really beside the point. The issue here is alcohol consumption on campus, and the problem is how those actions are punished. Lowering the drinking age to 18 won’t help unless schools start getting their acts together and punishing more harshly those students who break the law.

  • Evan

    To address this issue, why not change certain types of alcohol available to teenagers and college students? Studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that teenagers who engage in binge-drinking are more likely to get intoxicated from hard-liquor. If we allow beer to be purchased by 18 year olds, and hard-liquor/spirits to be purchased only by 21 year olds, then the appeal to binge drink might decrease in the 18-20 year old age group if hard-liquor is not accesible.

  • Paul Bussler

    This is just another case of parents trying offload their responsibilities on to the school systems.

    If these kid were well educated at home about alcohol and alcohol abuse, then the drinking age would be irrelevant.

    MADD needs to stop trying to legislate our social problems away and start a campaign to get parents to take some action and interest in their children.

  • Nate

    On Jacks point about MADD.

    I have a feeling they would be happy to go back to prohibition. They seemed like the worst thing for this discussion.

  • john

    i agree with with anne. when downing 10 shots of tequila is considered heroic (as seems to be the case around these parts,) young people are going to continue to binge drink. perhaps we should tackle the problem by reducing the glamorization of intoxication.

  • Dana

    I believe John McCardell mispresented the impact of

    lowering the drinking age. According to the research by National Institute of Drug Abuse and the Montioring the Future studies — the fact is that before the National Minimum Age Drinking Act raised the legal drinking age to 21 in 1984, the binge drinking rates among twelfth graders was 36% in 1975, it increased to 41% in the 80’s and now in 2007 it was 26%. Raising the age has a postive effect on underage drinking; lowering the drinking age would have a negative spill over effect on high schoolers.

  • Curt Prins

    MADD needs to be reigned in. I’ve traveled significantly overseas and the culture needs to shift in the US. MADD is a roadblock in society’s natural evolution is sensible use of alcohol.

    I feel for the loss of those who had loved ones killed by drunk drivers…but MADD can no longer twist research to their means and use deaths to hammer society with efforts that have now caused more harm than good.

    One should simply look at the drunk driving laws in Europe to see that they are far more punitively severe for higher blood alcohol levels–0.15 compared to .10 here. (And MADD wants to push it to .08.)

  • Rick

    I believe lowering the drinking age would provide more guidance to responsible drinking by exposing drinking with parents and family at home. The problem with college students and binge drinking in my opinion is that there are very few people with responsible drinking experience to provide guidance. This new opportunity is offered when these young people are in a community where nearly all have to experiment for themselves on how to be able to handle it. As with most new learning there is some trial and error. In this case however the error can be tragic.

    As a background I am now 27 and have gone through the parties in high school where I did not drink as a personal choice but did before I was 21 in college and also while I was in the army which has many similarities to drinking in college.

  • Alex Miller

    It seems to me that if rasing the drinking age to 21 did not affect the age that kids start drinking, then it did fail and we shouldn’t keep trying to enforce a broken law. I disagree with the statement that we shouldn’t repeal a law because it’s not working, we most definitely should. Does the guest remember prohibition? Should we not have repealled that law, because it most definatly did not work?

    One guest pointed out that lowering the drinking age would not lower the age that kids start drinking, just the age they start drinking legally. I definitely believe that is true as I started binge drinking at 19 in college. If it had been legal, I would have instead just bought an occasional drink rather then binging when ever I could get my hands on some alcohol.

  • Natasha

    As a current college student, I find alcohol is such a given for those who are underage (including myself) that I don’t see drinking habits changing, were the age threshhold lowered. I may have a skewed view on the matter, but I go to a specialized, performing arts school and after the requisite excited freshmen binging, drinking tends to occur in smaller gatherings among friends. It isn’t a big deal. As many have said before, it is the frat-party culture that is the problem, not the drinking age itself.

  • Donald

    Brain development studies, drunk driving studies, addiction studies, etc are all well and good but they don’t change the fact that people like to drink and may be curious about it at a young age. We have to change the overall discussion in the country toward our youth about drinking. Laws on limits of amounts or limits of age can not actually stop a person’s curiosity and decision to drink.

  • Courtney Manlove

    I am 27. My brothers are 23 and 21. Our parents showed us from a young age that alcohol is not “evil” but that it can be dangerous. They taught us how to handle it in a mature manner. If we wanted something to drink, they preferred us to have it at home, in a safe environment rather than going into some guy’s house who happened to be of age and getting trashed. This not only taught us right from wrong, but also curbed our desire to go out and get drunk every weekend in college. This being said, I firmly believe, and have since before I could *legally* drink, that if at age 18 I can make the decision to get married, serve in the military, rack up credit card debt, be convicted for a crime as an adult, and buy cigarettes, I should be able to purchase a margarita if I so choose. The concern that young kids will have greater access to alcohol is real, and this needs to be handled by the PARENTS who need to teach there kids right from wrong, and don’t try to hide them from the realities of life.

  • Jane

    My daughter also attends college in Canada. She is in the province of Ontario where the drinking age is 19 years old. We are strongly in agreement with changing the drinking age to 19 years old. She has developed a respectful attitude about alcohol as a result. We would not agree with an 18 year old drinking age because we feel that this would introduce unfettered alcohol access to the high school community. In Ontario, Canada, the college students aged 19 and above help police the freshmen drinking patterns. We worry about the drinking patterns on American campuses and are considering sending our second daughter to a Canadian college as a result.

  • Giles

    1) The law is plainly discriminatory. How can it be other.

    2) The US tried this experiment across the nation with a constitutional amendment of all things! and, after 10 years, with the same certainty decided it didn’t work. Just as the ban doesn’t work 18 to 21.

    3) Binge drinkng is a cultural or sub-cultural acceptance that making alcohol harder to come by exacerbates. Responsible drinking is learned under the cultural atmosphere that encourages same. Drunk driving falls under similar self-enforcement.

    4) Banning drink to an age group makes as much sense as teaching “abstinence only” sex education. Or trying to ban sex by legal proclamation. You’d laugh.

  • Jennifer

    I am a college student at MNSU – Mankato and our school has had some very large problems with binge drinking and Deaths due to Alchohal. The age of drinking is not the issue, but the way in which our society has viewed drinking is the problem. We see drinking as something that is celebrated and done in excess. I think that the way we view drinking is what needs to be dicussed. Also, I believe that another sever problem with underage drinking is the lack of time kids are supervised by parents. My parents each worked 2 jobs but they made sure to know me and my friends and had real trust knowing that I was safe and was being safe.

  • Ben

    When I was 18-19 years old and in college, I had no problem getting alcohol. Because my parents understood I would drink, they made an effort to educate me on how to drink responsibly. If the age is lowered to 19 AND parents make an effort to educate their children on how to drink I don’t think this will be a problem. Furthermore, I like the other posts about the intolerance of drinking and driving in other countries. Why can’t the US be harsher in the treatment of drunk drivers. No driving after 1 drink. Any DWI will result in a loss of license for a number of years regardless of age. With education of how to drink and an intolerance of drinking and driving, we may be able to satisfy both those who wish to lower the drinking age and MADD.

  • Grahame

    I was the first caller this morning (the vet who talked about binge drinking on military bases in Europe). For reference, when I was deployed with my Guard unit, I was 25, so not that much older than old enough to drink.

    You can’t just look at other countries that allow drinking at 18 and assume that it would work in America, because the cultures are different. When I was in Italy (where we were deployed) a buddy and I went to one of the local pubs, and we met some Italian teenagers who were drinking. They were all just enjoying their drink, not getting wasted. But that’s because Italy has such a rich history with and appreciation for alcohol…it’s part of their culture.

    If you lower the drinking age to 18 here, or even 19, you’ll see a big spike in alcohol-related incidents, and then maybe a plateau. But are all the ruined lives that could result as that spike worth the plateau?

  • Rodolfo


    I’m from Argentina but I’ve lived here for 6 years. I don’t understand why is ok to put a gun in a teenager’s hand and send them to fight a war and not let them have a drink.

    In my personal experience, by the time I was 21 I had already experience alcohol in many flavors and learned to control myself. Here people are desperate to turn 21 to loose their head drinking alcohol.

    Let’s not forget parents involvement too. The state is not the only responsible here. The education starts at home.

  • Kathy

    I grew up in the 70’s where the drinking age was lowered to 18. We knew that we could socialize in a bar, drink in a dorm and pretty much drink whenever we wanted. There were many people who abuse alchohol but most people knew that we were out for the evening so we had to pace ourselves. Kids today drink as much as they can before they go out so be drunk all evening. They are not incented to drink responsibly. They only know binging.

    I was in the Greek system at the U and there was a lot of alchohol abuse but I don’t remember anyone dying from alchohol poisoning. I think we are hiding our heads in the sand thinking that we are going to curb drinking by keeping the drinking age at 21. We need to make it legal in college but keep it out of the highschools. Kids need to learn to drink responsibly and have frank communication with their parents about the dangers and rammifications drinking brings. There should be Zero tolerance for drinking and driving.

    Another problem brought up by my daughter who is a college student is that friends do not seek medical help for a friend who is passed out for fear of the retribution against them. They must be allowed to bring a drunk person into the hospital without facing any retribution (perhaps a Good Samaritan Law).

  • I think part of the problem is something Greek Scholar and Patriot Dr.

    David Alen Black wrote about in his book, “The Myth of Adolescence.”

    Many have bought into the social engineering of the 1930’s,

    rather than Biblical truth that children are raised to be adults and

    accept adult responsibilities around the age of 13-14 years old. In

    just about every other culture in the world this is still the norm, or

    at the latest, 16 years old.

    Drinking is not the problem, artificially extending childhood beyond

    the Biblical standard is.


    – TOV Rose

    The Entertainment Industry Chaplains

    “Faith & The Entertainment Industry Working Together”

    Contact Information:

    Name: – TOV (Pronounced: like “stove” no “s” no “e”)

    The Entertainment Industry Chaplains

    PO Box 211125

    Saint Paul MN 55121


    Los Angeles: 310-574-2895

    Manhattan: 917-720-8128

    Nashville: 615-673-4159

    Saint Paul: 651-686-5600

    Fax: 845-698-5600


  • Eric


    Some schools, like Gustavus, have passed laws like that. I don’t know of any more off the top of my head, but I’m sure there are other schools with similar laws.

  • James

    If we are so concerned about drunk driving, raise the driving age. I have never understood why we don’t teach teens to handle their own bodies before we allow them to handle 2,000-lb. machines. Allow parents a chance to destigmatize alcohol and the problem will dissipate. Lower the drinking age, raise the driving age!

  • Sonja in St Paul

    The fact of the matter is we as a society have our age-assigned responsibilities backwards. Drinking age should be younger, driving age should be older.

    In Europe many countries allow 16 years olds to drink wine and beer (spirits are more often reseved for 18 & up). Teenagers learn to drink in the presence (i.e. supervisison) of adults. I strongly believe that “kids” will drink more responsibly if they are not isolated–drinking clandestinely only with their peers is a recipe for abuse of alcohol. Moreover, teens can’t drink and drive if they can’t drive until they’re adults.

    Which of these requires higher responsibility: Voting? Serving in the military? Driving a car? Or having a drink with alcohol in it? I maintain that the first three are higher responsibilites, requiring more time to mature, than the last.

  • Tracy

    Binge drinking is a problem because we’ve made the “forbidden fruit”. Therefore, reducing the drinking age to 18 won’t solve the problem. Eliminating the drinking age will, but may not be politically viable.

    Responsible drinking can only be learned at home, but it must be learned before age 18. As parents we allowed our sons to have a drink at any age if they were with us. They are now over thirty and only occasionally have a drink.

  • nancy Rosenbower

    as a child i was raised in an italian/irish/french home. we were served wine (mixed with water when we were very young) at special occasion dinners. thus, i believe my palate was more developed than the “boone’s farm” and”bali hai” folks i went to school with. the use of alcohol was not separate from any other issue. we were taught moderation, respect for ourselves and respect for others. the drinking age changed to 18 when i was 18. there had been underage drinking before and there was after that. drinking to get drunk and all the things along with that were less than appealing and the people that did that were also less than appealing. the magic was gone,probably because it was not such a big deal and alcohol was not a way to get under my parents’ skin! if i disrespected myself or others, that was the way to do it.

    i too believe that if our 18 year olds are old enough to follow a military order, they are old enough to make all decisions.

    i admit to having too much to drink several times in my life – not intentionally – though stupidly. but, i also had people around me making sure i was not in harm’s way.

    what it boils down to is teaching and learning lessons of community and responsibility. binge drinking is just another symptom of a much larger deficit facing our society today.

  • Jeremy

    I doubt that many police departments would be able to afford the extra enforcement costs of that extra three years of young adults.

    At least not in my area.

  • jerome

    List off a whole host of challenges our youth face including the drinking problem: one common basic problem we defiantly resist to face: our kids look up to us, we are the role models. Until we are willing to change our poor adult habits how can we expect the kids to be any different. We send a completely hyprocrytical message to our kids, do as we say not as we do.

  • Scot

    I lived through the period of time when the drinking age was 18. As I look back on that time now, I wonder how I survived it. The drinking age should stay 21 to keep the roads safer for everyone.

  • Jeff Friesen

    (irrelevant intro removed. Sorry, it’s not that kind of forum. – BC)

    And now the meat of my post.

    I cannot believe that so many people have missed the point on the air. The lady from MADD reminds me of the NRA stating that she wants a discussion on the facts and research and then quoting TIME magazine. She is all about the politics and not about the reality.

    I grew up in Canada and I did not see nearly as much binge drinking there as when I moved to the States to finish a degree. The researcher stated that deaths by vehicular accident are lower now that the age of drinking is 21.

    If the problem is drinking AND DRIVING, then enforce and tighten up on the drunk driving laws. As another poster mentioned make it a zero tolerance policy. If you drink and drive you lose you license, your car, and your freedom because you are a menace and threat to society for driving. Drinking is ancillary to that.

    If you want to drink and walk or drink and cab, that is fine.

    Hiding our heads in the sand and pretending that a purchasing age of 21 for alcohol is keeping it out of the hands of kids is rank and willful stupidity. Let’s deal with the problem by making the laws reflect the criminal act which is not drinking but rather driving while under the influence. Make the penalty severe enough that no one thinks it is OK.

    And then we can lower the drinking age and start to grow up as a society.

  • Carol Germ

    I lived for 30 years in a state that had very little problem with underage drinking. That state was Utah and I think the drinking of alcohol never became a problem because the culture of the homes where drinking was not accepted. Also at the age of 18 many of the boys were excited about the “rite of passage” offered by their church to go on a mission. By the age of 20 many had married and may even had a child. What happened with my two children who had very little exposure to drinking in the home was split. My daughter came to MN to college and she realized that the drinking was in excess and was responsible with her drinking. My son in his freshmen year was feeling isolated and alone and for a short while seemed to be having a problem with drinking. We decided as his parents to no longer pay for his college and he dropped out of school for a semester and went on what we called a “Farming Mission” to ND. He came back after 3 months of farming and was ready to be serious about school and really didn’t have a problem with drinking any longer. I agree with those who say it is the culture and that includes the home culture of drinking that needs to be looked at before lowering the age limit on drinking. It is always a sad day for many when a young person loses their lives needlessly to overindulgence. CAROL

  • Jodi Johnson


    I posted a comment about supporting parents and encouraging educating them about alcohol consumption, but I think I posted my comment elsewhere on this site. Maybe you can find it and post it to your blog.

    I think this is a great debate on this issue, and it would be great if everyone can work together to achieve more than just “less fatalities from binge drinking”. I believe in instilling healthy attitudes in our youth early on, and parents need help in doing so.

    Parents need to turn off the reality tv and spend time in their own realities–go talk to your kids about real life. I think 19 is a reasonable drinking age-or get rid of it altogether and focus more on empowering parents to teach their own children.

  • jeff Friesen

    One further point.

    It seems that the majority of the posters here who oppose lowering the age of drinking are doing so because it will make their lives/jobs or those of others they know more difficult.

    In other words they are worried that they will have to be responsible for themselves and others. Just like any adult.

    It is child like thinking.

  • brian

    “Arguing that 18 year olds should be drinking because they can go to war is like arguing that fifteen-year-olds should be stripping because some of them are having sex. ”

    In most states 15 year olds aren’t allowed to have sex (but may do it anyway). 18 year olds are allowed to go to war. This would be a good refutation of the argument “18 year olds are drinking anyway, so it might as well be legal”, but it doesn’t way anything about the going to war argument.

  • Grahame


    I realize that drinking may never have been a problem for you, but that doesn’t mean that it applies to everyone. I also don’t think it’s fair to say that people who want to lower the drinking age as a way to prevent pain and suffering for themselves or others are guilty of “child-like thinking.” I’d say the people who want to arbitrarily lower the drinking age without setting up some structure first are thinking “child-like,” because children don’t usually think about the consequences before they do something.

    Like you said, you grew up in Canada, where the drinking age is 18. Same with Rodolfo, the above poster from Argentina. In both cases, you came from a culture where drinking is acceptable and is done responsibly. But you can’t apply that logic across the board and assume it will work. You have to change peoples’ attitudes first, and because of our current drinking legislation, America’s attitudes towards drinking are very deep-seeded, and therefore will take considerable time to change.

    I agree with you on a zero-tolerance policy, and I agree that we’ll need stronger laws concerning alcohol if we’re to lower the age, but we need to have that structure in place before we lower the age, if we as a nation decide that that’s the best way to go.

  • Jodi

    Now that I actually read this blog, I find it interesting to see that many people had similar opinions.

    I have always thought Germany’s laws make more sense. Learn to drink responsibly BEFORE you learn to drive instead of afterwards! It just seems like common sense.

    And yes, parents need to continue to teach and support their children until they are 25 when their brains are more developed. And, just because your brain is not fully developed does not mean you can’t learn healthy attitudes and respect for your own body!

    I hope the debate continues and keeps this issue open for our country to discuss. Yes, it is very sad to see what many of us had to go through as a “rite of passage” here, and how many of us almost died before we learned what alcohol really is.

    I also like the idea someone posted about allowing beer and wine at a younger age, then hard alcohol at 21. Something like that may work better than what MADD has been doing politically for years. I believe in what they are trying to accomplish though, so I don’t want to say bad things about the organization. We are all trying to reach the same endpoint, and just need to figure out how to do so.

  • mx

    Its too bad that its takes our college communities to spark an ongoing dialogue on this issue. As a Gustavus Alum and former RA, I’m proud of what President Jack is bringing to the table.

    In my opinion, age is an arbitrary issue here. We adults continuously try to curb our own vices through experimentation on the youth. DUIs that kill happen at all ages. We need to do a better job at teaching, encouraging, and enforcing better drinking habits.

    I’m not saying that it is not important to address DUIs but we should be better role models for our young people. As jerome stated above: “We send a completely hyprocrytical message to our kids, do as we say not as we do.”

    Its ironic that drinking in itself, is usually a celebratory event. Let’s get back to making toasts than making obituaries.