Archive for the 'Is 21 Working?' Category

Call and Response

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

In the interest of full disclosure, we present below both the link to MADD’s press release and the text of Choose Responsibility’s response.

Science speaks for itself” (MADD press release). Indeed it does. While it is true that “almost 50 peer-reviewed studies” have “found that an increased drinking age significantly lowers alcohol-related fatalities” (MADD press release), an equal number of studies have found no relationship between the drinking age and alcohol-related fatalities (Wagenaar and Toomey, 2002).

Thus, if science is allowed to speak for itself, we must not listen selectively.

While it is true that alcohol-related traffic fatalities have declined since the age was raised to 21, the downward trend began before the law was changed, and it has remained essentially flat for the last decade (NHTSA). Meanwhile, more than 1,000 18-24 year-old lives are being lost to alcohol each year off the roadways, and this number is increasing at an alarming rate (Hingson, 1998, 2001). These lives are being put at risk in the dark corners and behind the closed doors to which Legal Age 21 have banished them.

Thus, we need to look at all the ways alcohol, and the drinking age, put lives at risk, not just at traffic fatalities. The 21 year-old drinking age has forced drinking underground. Clandestine, goal-oriented, unsupervised drinking, a consequence of Legal Age 21, is putting an increasing number of young adult lives at risk.

While it is true that “the neurotoxic effect of excessive alcohol use” (MADD press release) can affect the development of the adolescent brain, no one is advocating excessive alcohol use. Researchers involved in studies of the adolescent brain have stated that, unless the drinking age is raised to 25, when the adolescent brain is fully developed, there is nothing magical about some other age. Indeed, at least one such researcher, Professor Scott Swartzwelder of Duke University, has stated that his studies do “not mean that an 18 year-old who has a beer or two every couple of weeks is doing irreparable damage to her brain. It is the 18 year-old (or 30 year-old for that matter!) who downs five or six drinks on his way to a dance that worries me.”

Thus, we mustn’t be misled by scare tactics. We must listen carefully to what scientists are saying. Most of the rest of the world, where the age is lower than 21, exhibits no evidence of brain impairment. Moderate, responsible use of alcohol poses little neurological risk. Excessive use of alcohol, at any age, may be health- or life-threatening. Clandestine drinking, fostered by Legal Age 21, raises that threat.

“Children” will be children

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2007

 We commend Dale Pratt-Wilson for working to curb “underage” drinking. She has devoted her career to keeping alcohol out of the hands of our nation’s youth, and has collaborated with organizations such as Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol-Free in order to curb drinking amongst children aged 9 to 15. We applaud this mission. However,  in today’s The Daily Tar Heel, Ms. Pratt-Wilson unabashedly confuses young adults with children — infantalizing those who, in every other respect, are adults.

The opinion piece cites the work of H. Scott Swartzwelder, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University and member of the Board of Trustees of Choose Responsibility. Swartzwelder proves that the adolescent brain is not fully developed until age 25; however, the researcher himself agrees that 21 is not a magical number. Rather, Legal Age 21 has forced drinking underground and led to excessive, dangerous, and lethal drinking. It has created a culture of pregaming and drinking games, where drunkenness is the goal and alcohol consumption is forced out of safe, communal spaces and into dorm rooms, off-campus houses, and underground locales.

A quick glance at Europe disregards the markedly different historical drinking cultures of its northern and souther countries. History and an extensive body of cross cultural research would suggest that cultural attitudes towards alcohol use play a far more influential role than minimum age in these countries, which have more drinking occasions per month, but boast fewer dangerous, intoxication occasions.

Enforcement is not the answer. For every 1,000 incidences of underage alcohol consumption, only two result in arrest or citation. The cost of  “improved enforcement resources” is exponential and will further drive drinking underground. The fact is, the majority of college-aged students drink — in unsafe environments without adequate education or guidance. Infantile behavior is a product of infantalization. Adults will act like adults when the law is synchronized with reality.

The reality of it all

Monday, October 1st, 2007

Addiction expert and author of the recent book Addiction Proof Your Child Stanton Peele was interviewed recently by CNN on how parents should teach their children about alcohol. Along with his 19 year-old daughter, Anna, he discusses the importance of introducing adolescent children to alcohol in the home, modeling responsible behavior, and allowing them to sample alcohol on family occasions. Peele argues that taking such an approach is proven to lessen the likelihood of binge drinking and that more American parents need to play an active, supportive role in teaching their children about alcohol.

He says many of the programs set up to stop alcohol abuse contribute to the teen binge-drinking crisis. Any program that tells kids flatly not to drink creates temptation, he says. “Preparing your child to drink at home lessens the likelihood that they are going to binge drink,” he says. “Not sharing alcohol with your child is a risk factor for binge drinking.”

Peele’s advice is straightforward, responsible, and realistic. The vast majority–over 90% of young people who drink–start drinking before age 21. Adolescents will be exposed to alcohol before they are 21, likely in situations where their peers are drinking excessively and illegally. There is nothing new or revolutionary about this argument–in most other cultures (which incidentally have lower rates of youthful binge drinking…go figure!), alcohol is introduced in a family setting where norms about its use are instilled and it is held up as a food source rather than an intoxicant.

Yet apparently evidence from centuries of this practice around the globe aren’t enough proof for Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

“That’s ridiculous,” says Calvina Fay, executive director of the Drug Free America Foundation. “By allowing teens to drink,” Fay says, “you are giving permission to your children to do harmful things.”

Fay’s statements are reactionary and short sighted. Consuming alcohol is a normative experience for young Americans. Denying that reality, and chastising parents who are giving their children essential experience by serving alcohol in the home is dangerous and has perpetuated the culture of excess we are currently facing. We need to encourage policies that make moderate use an option for young adults, rather than supporting an unrealistic, no use policy for 18-20 year-old young adults.

Bottom line: Prohibition doesn’t (and has never) worked!

Safe Drinking Venues

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

As our nation’s colleges and universities continue to wrestle with campus alcohol policy — either strictly enforcing Legal Age 21 or turning a blind eye (both options leading to dangerous, underground, and off-campus drinking) — it is refreshing to see productive steps being taken to produce a safer drinking climate on-campus. We applaud the University of Vermont’s efforts to create a campus pub, which will generate an environment where alcohol accompanies, rather than determines, the activity. While the majority of UVM’s students still fall below the age of 21 and would not be served liquor in such a venue, the university has nevertheless committed itself to cultivating a more sensible campus attitude towards alcohol.

Ideally, such a venue would accommodate all college students above the age of eighteen, as everyone would benefit from access to a space defined by moderate and sensible drinking. We therefore strongly disagree with the with the editorial comment made by the Burlington Free Press:

Lowering the drinking age to 18 is not the answer because in part it would make alcohol more easily accessible to high schoolers and because of the drinking-and-driving issue.

We are firmly committed to an 18-year old drinking age that exists within a greater program of cultural and educational change. In lowering the drinking age, our intent is not to increase the prevalence of alcohol in the lives of those below the age of majority. Widely-respected laws galvanize citizens to action, breed communal enforcement, and justify more severe penalties for individuals who choose to violate them. If we agree that 18-year old adults have the right to consume alcohol in a safe setting, then we can create necessary safeguards to prevent the transfer of alcohol to their younger peers.

Some words for Mothers Against Drunk Driving

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

President of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), Glynn Birch, issued this response to the recent Parade Magazine article, “Should the Drinking Age be Lowered?

“We are deeply disappointed in Parade Magazine’s flawed article on the discussions centered around lowering the drinking age. Unfortunately, Parade decided to emphasize the junk science promoted by a few over the longstanding and substantial, peer-reviewed evidence that proves the 21 law saves lives. The fact is there are at least 23,000 Americans alive today because of the 21 law.

It is regrettable that our friends at MADD, with whom we share an unambiguous opposition to drunk driving, have chosen such intemperate language to respond to the August 12 article in Parade Magazine. The following facts cannot be so easily dismissed as “junk science:”

  • According to Ralph Hingson, in two separate peer-reviewed studies, more than 1,000 18-24 year-old lives are lost to alcohol each year in places other than on the roads. That number has been increasing since 1998.
  • According to NHTSA, more lives were saved in two years (2002 and 2003) than have allegedly been saved in the history of Legal Age 21.
  • According to Alexander Wagenaar, fewer than half of the peer reviewed studies on the subject have shown any relationship between the drinking age and the decline in alcohol-related traffic fatalities.

–[CR] Director John McCardell

You may also want to check out, MADD’s (well-inspired) response to the increasing prominence of the drinking age debate. We believe that imitation is the highest form of flattery!

University officials charged in alcohol poisoning death

Tuesday, August 7th, 2007

The New York Times reported on August 4th that two Rider University officials and three fraternity members were charged with aggravated hazing in the March death of a freshmen fraternity pledge. Gary DeVercelly, an 18 year-old freshman from Long Beach, CA, died on March 30 after a night of drinking as part of a fraternity initiation ritual.  When DeVercelly died, his Blood Alcohol Content was 0.426–a level at which an individual will be completely unconscious, have depressed reflexes, impaired respiratory and circulatory function, and will be near death.  He had consumed more than half of a bottle of flavored vodka along with his fraternity brothers.

This tragic case represents the first time that university employees have been charged directly in an alcohol related incident.  Neither the dean of students or Greek life coordinator were present at the fraternity house on March 30 nor were they directly responsible for providing the alcohol that was served at the party.  The three students charged, who are all over 21, were present at the party that led to DeVercelly’s death.