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[CR] Responds to the HuffPost

Friday, June 15th, 2012

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 ( to see this research for yourself.


Readers, what did you think of John McCardell’s essay and of Deni Carise’s response?

From the Archives: Testimonial

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012


“While in college I decided I wanted to help create a society where alcohol is used but not abused. I believe that the legal drinking plays a large role in how our society treats alcohol and that the current age causes abusive drinking. I also believe that the legal drinking age is a decision that should be left to the states as they can each experiment to determine the correct alcohol policies.

“A driving factor in my desire to change the legal drinking age may be the fact that I was arrested and forced to spend a night in jail because I was caught consuming alcohol at the age of 20. My friends and family get a kick out the fact that this Eagle Scout, altar boy, high school valedictorian, and otherwise very well behaving young man spent a night in jail for something that would have been completely legal if I had been 5 months older. They especially enjoy the fact that I walked directly from jail to church, as I never miss mass. I also fight for a lower drinking age because I can see how differently my friends and I treated alcohol before we were 21. The law didn’t prevent us from drinking it only reduced the number of occasions to drink. This meant that when we did have access to alcohol we consumed all that was available as we weren’t certain when we could drink again. After we were 21 we knew we could always obtain alcohol and quality became much more important than quantity. If drinking became something that we are taught rather than being pushed underground I believe fewer young people would drink abusively.”

~Adam Stephan

College athletes tip the (drinking) scales

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

Student athletes are more often the heaviest drinkers in the overall student population. Half of college athletes (57 percent of men and 48 percent of women) are binge drinkers and experience a greater number of alcohol- related harms than other students. College athletes are also more likely than other students to say that getting drunk is an important reason for drinking. (Dying to Drink by Henry Wechsler, Ph.D.)

[CR]’s John McCardell in the news again

Monday, June 4th, 2012

Choose Responsibility’s former president, John McCardell, participated in an online interview last week. The interview, published on Spreecast, came on the heels of his New York Times essay on the age of majority.

The interview, which can be found here, covers Dr. McCardell’s stance on the 21 vs. 18 year old drinking age and provides relevant statistics on brain development and on Congress’s inability to effectively legislate a unified drinking age.

As you may recall from the past, the Ameythist Initiative was founded to lobby Congress to reevaluate the highway funding connected with a state’s minimum legal drinking age. In his interview, Dr. McCardell discusses the importance of bringing this issue before Congress in hopes of making progress on a more effective drinking age.

Reactions to yesterday’s NYT essay

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

John McCardell’s essay spurred quite a conversation in cyberspace–and surely face-to-face– yesterday. Supporters and dissenters of a lower drinking age, albeit with a license, made their voices heard by commenting on the New York Times page, on our Facebook page, and through our Twitter feed.

We often receive emails from high school students interested in lowering the drinking age, and this is not surprising. These students perceive an intrinsic benefit in lowering the drinking age. So it was interesting that most of our commenters on the NYT page yesterday were, according to the information they provided, middle-aged people with young adult children. These people are not fighting for a lower age because they seek the freedom. Instead, based on their comments, this demographic favors a lower drinking age to enable a greater sense of responsibility in their children. The opinion of adults who can drink on their own yet do not have the opportunity to teach their children to do so demonstrates the disparity in the intention of the law and in the outcome of the law.

One particularly pertinent comment is included below. And readers, we’d love to hear what you think about Dr. McCardell’s essay. Go ahead and provide your insight in the comment section below.

From “A Cranky Alumna” in Ohio:

As the parent of two young adults, I was shocked at the ways their college experiences differed from mine regarding alcohol. At a small liberal arts college in the 70s, when the drinking age was 18, alcohol was an integrated and thus controlled and, indeed, educational aspect of college life. Wine and beer were served at college-sponsored functions; security was generally informed of larger student parties, loosely monitoring them not in search of violations but to ensure safety; it was a treat and an achievement to be invited to a professor’s home for an evening that might well include a tutorial on the fine points of a special apertif. In short, responsible, intelligent drinking was seen as an aspect of responsible, intelligent adulthood, something to which we all aspired.

By contrast, when my children attended a similar college 30 years later, the official position was that there was no drinking on campus. There was, of course: students drank as much as possible, as fast as possible, as surreptitiously as possible. There was no occasion for drinking with any objective other than to get drunk, and most frightening of all, students were so intimidated by the zero-tolerance policy that they refused to call security when problems–ranging from alcohol poisoning to drug overdose to sexual assault–inevitably ensued.

You tell me which strategy is most likely to result in healthy, responsible young adults.


John McCardell on the Drinking License

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

Choose Responsibility President emeritus John M. McCardell published an essay on the drinking age and a proposed drinking permit in the New York Times today. The essay evaulates the effectiveness of the current drinking age and provides a common sense solution for teaching young people to drink, and act, responsibly. McCardell writes,

We should prepare young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol in the same way we prepare them to operate a motor vehicle: by first educating and then licensing and permitting them to exercise the full privileges of adulthood so long as they demonstrate their ability to observe the law.

If you infantilize someone, do not be surprised when infantile behavior — like binge drinking — results. Prohibition is not the answer, and never has been. Let us treat young people who turn 18 as the adults who the law, in every other respect, says they are.

You may read the entire article here.

Solutions in Communication

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Several days ago, I posted about parents hosting parties for the underage children. And while we by no means endorse breaking the law–people under 21 cannot legally consume alcohol–we realize that parents of teenagers are in an uncomfortable position. It can be treacherous to speak candidly about alcohol without scaring a teenager away or making them think drinking is allowed.

Linda Flannigan, a parent from Summit, New Jersey and writer for the Huffington Post, noted the perils of turning a blind eye to drinking in a blog post published today. She beseeches parents to come to terms with their children’s behaviors, despite how uncomfortable the conversation might be, and she notes the value of solid communication.

Promising new research out of Penn State indicates that parents who adopt simple conversational tools with their kids can transform the way these children approach drinking. The lengthy study carried out by Dr. Turrisi includes easy tips: talk about alcohol, listen and don’t lecture and discuss rules and consequences of drinking, to name a few. When parents follow these guidelines, Turrisi found, underage drinking declines by up to 30 percent.

Flannigan proves that a positive relationship with adolsecents about alcohol yields promising results. The research she mentions suggests that aparent can be a young person’s best role model with regards to alcohol. However, it is difficult to read her post without noting that the law continues to prohibit parents from actually teaching children to behave responsibly.


Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

Fears that updating the DSM-5 would over diagnose thousands more college students as alcoholics have been put to rest, for now. Erika Christakis reported for Time that “editors of the DSM-5 countered that the change in definition won’t increase diagnosis.” However, she argues that semantics cannot hide the fact that college drinking occurs at astronomical, and dangerous, levels.

Christakis provides sobering statistics that any reader would find impossible to ignore. Drinking among young peole, she claims, is not decreasing but has likely increased in the last 14 years. Her statistics also show that underage people are not only drinking, but they are also driving.

The statistics are truly sobering. Every year, more than 3 million students between ages 18 and 24 drive while drunk. Alcohol accounts for 1,850 annual deaths in that age group, including deaths from car crashes and suicide. Almost 600,000 are injured under the influence of alcohol and another 700,000 have been assaulted by an intoxicated student. Around 400,000 had unprotected sex as a result of intoxication and 100,000 reported being too drunk to give consent for sex. Eleven percent of college drinkers damaged property. A quarter report academic difficulty due to alcohol use, while 150,000 college students have alcohol-related health problems.

Christakis’ article, published in a widely read magazine, demonstrates the increasing gravity of college drinking and reminds readers of the uncomfortable realities that can accompany irresponsible drinking. She concludes her piece by asking that we ignore, at least in principle, diagnostic labels and instead focus on the issue of harm reduction.

Hazing: A professor speaks up

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Patty Kleban, a Penn State professor, lamented the dangers surrounding hazing in a recent article on Kleban reflects on recent college hazing incidents including one on her own campus, and she argues that all play a role in curtailing the behavior. As a college professor, she keenly, and regularly, observes behaviors associated with hazing and coercion–students wreaking of beer, sleep deprived young men, a student coming to class barefoot.

However, Kleban’s most perinent comment is not one on the subject of stopping hazing. Instead, she recognizes that hazing  has been engrained in our culture since the 16th century;

According to Hank Nuwer, author and expert on hazing, rituals forced on new members of a group go back as far as the 16th century. The idea that one must prove strength, loyalty and dedication to the group while senior group members assess membership appropriateness has roots in preparation for war and has been rationalized as part of the bonding process.

Hazing, according to Nuwer, is not limited by gender, age, ethnicity or the group’s primary activity. For centuries, hazing was accepted and condoned.

In recognizing that hazing has persisted through time, Klebal acknowledges that the practice may be difficult to terminate.

However, we might truly begin to reduce this increasingly scary practice by teaching young people how to handle alcohol approriately. If college students existed in a society that taught them to consume, and behave, responsibly, we might begin to see a pendulum shift.

Understanding that alcohol is meant to be enjoyed appropriately may prevent some from using it in hazing practices. With hazing, alcohol–when one has not been taught to respect it–becomes a physical manifestation of a power struggle between young and old, new and experienced. Respecting the drink may lead to respecting each other.



Monday, May 21st, 2012

In 2002, twice as many 21-year-olds as 18-year-olds were involved in alcohol related traffic fatalities.