Last week, Dr. Deni Carise, a substance abuse prevention expert, offered a retort to John M. McCardell’s New York Times essay on the age of majority. Her essay was published in the Huffington Post and can be found here. Choose Responsibility responded to Dr. Carise’s passionate argument with the following statement:
Dear Dr. Carise,
I’d like to respond to your passionate denunciation of Dr.John McCardell’s May 28 viewpoint published on the New York Times web site.
First, it is important to note that Dr. McCardell’s essay was part of a larger collection of essays on the United States’ age of majority, which is 18 for most privileges associated with adulthood, e.g. the right to own property, serve on juries or serve in the military. Surely it is legitimate to ask if someone deemed capable of making choices in these fundamental areas cannot also make a similarly informed decision about alcohol.
Of course, as you mention, alcohol alters brain chemistry in a way that owning property does not. However, tests conducted on lab rats show that consistent overconsumption of alcohol in persons of all ages, not just adolescents, can adversely affects one’s health. The effects on human brain development are less clear. Yet while many neurologists agree that the brain does not finish developing until age 25, there is no empirical evidence that moderate consumption of alcohol by an 18-year-old is any more harmful than similar consumption by a 21-year-old. And if overconsumption, not necessarily age, is the overarching concern, then should we not be working to teach young people to consume in a safe and responsible manner?
You suggest that Dr. McCardell has a personal investment in this issue, and you are right—but for the wrong reason. Far from being let “off the hook” by a lower drinking age, college administrators would have no less responsibility to protect students under their aegis. But as any one of them will tell you, they would have a far better chance of influencing students’ drinking behavior while they can be in the same room with them than they can when the drinking takes place entirely in clandestine settings. As a substance abuse prevention expert, you are surely aware that nearly 1,500 college students die of overconsumption of alcohol annually—most of them under 21. The current law is in no way stopping young people, especially the 18-21 demographic, from drinking, but it is extraordinarily successful at preventing adults from teaching them how to drink responsibly.
You write of Dr. McCardell that he “makes unconnected leaps between issues and includes no data to back up his claims.” As I’m sure you’re aware, Dr. McCardell is the founder and former president of Choose Responsibility, an organization created to promote dispassionate debate about the presence of alcohol in America—particularly among its youngest citizens. McCardell and Choose Responsibilty have researched the topic extensively, and I encourage you to visit the site (www.chooseresponsbility.org) to see this research for yourself.
Readers, what did you think of John McCardell’s essay and of Deni Carise’s response?