Archive for November, 2007

USA Today and Science

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

Science does not stand alone — its findings become meaningful when viewed at large, not selectively, and when its formulas are placed in an everyday context, and its principles critically evaluated. By claiming that science rests on one side of the drinking age question, and neglecting the scientific and mathematical findings that disprove its case, the authors of yesterday’s editorial in USA Today illustrate a narrow-minded view of science. The authors’ attempts to crouch behind science are even more disappointing, having admitted in the first half of their article the dangerous unintended consequences generated by Legal Age 21.

If science supports the pro-21 argument, then why do the other 50 studies (surely, not cited by the newspaper) fail to support a cause-and-effect relationship between a higher drinking age and lower fatalities? If science proves that the 21 year-old drinking age is responsible for a decline in traffic fatalities and consequently, lives saved, then why have more lives been saved by seat belts and airbags in 2004 and 2005 than in the entire history of Legal Age 21? And further, how would the authors and MADD explain the (scientific) fact that alcohol-related fatalities have reached their highest level in the last decade?

 Then there is the social reality of alcohol in the lives of young adults — made more difficult and dangerous by Legal Age 21.  Drinking has been forced out of the open, into unsupervised venues where risky binge drinking has become the norm. Why are young adults, excelling in many other ways, choosing to put their lives at risk by consuming dangerous quantities of alcohol? The answer is tied to a scientific term called reactance motivation, and a certain historical movement called Prohibition. If we infantalize individuals who in all other instances are considered adults, it is not a surprise that we receive increasingly infantile behavior. Over 1,000 young adults aged 18-24 die every year from alcohol-related causes taking place off the roads and highways — victims of risky drinking practices. These dangerous consumption patterns are documented and widespread, and bear anatomical and neurological consequences far outweighing those associated with the moderate consumption of alcohol.

 Science does not rest on either side of the question, and needs to be evaluated seriously and realistically. There are too many questions left unanswered, and too many lives lost, to risk using limited science as a shield from social reality.

What about 19?

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007

What do we think of a 19 year-old drinking age? Many of you have asked us this question, particularly concerned that an 18-year-old drinking age would translate to the widespread transfer of alcohol to high school students. This question is reasonable, and our response is as follows:

The age of majority is 18. At 18, young adults can vote, enlist in the military, serve on a jury, smoke, marry, and enter binding contracts. In the court system, they can be legally held accountable for their actions as adults. The “Fight at 18, Drink at 21?” argument is simple and powerful because it reflects the societal reality of what it means to be an adult. Interestingly, Legal Age 21, by forcing the consumption of alcohol out of the open, has infantalized these “adults.”

 Then there arises the question of infantile behavior. Indeed, 95 percent of those who will be alcohol consumers in their lifetime drank alcohol before the age of 21. Drinking is a reality in the lives of young adults; however, given the restrictions of Legal Age 21, they lack an opportunity to learn about moderate and sensible drinking from adults they respect. The result, understandably, has been infantile behavior that, given the present law, is difficult to change.

We believe that a lower drinking age will breed a more responsible culture of alcohol consumption. This will not necessarily happen independently, but rather, through a combination of education and licensing. These programs are fundamental to our proposal, as they help not only introduce young adults to the rights and responsibilies of legal alcohol consumption, but also help provide incentives that will limit the types of behavior implicit in your question. The timing of the drinking license (delivered after high school graduation), compounded with a more socially acceptable legal drinking age, will confer privileges that we believe will limit the transfer of alcohol to high school students.

 That brings us to the fundamental question — what about 19? The fact is, though our proposals make clear the benefits of a uniform age of majority (in conjunction with educational programs), we believe that a lower drinking age — of whatever number — is more important.  Most important, however, is public debate.

Until the federal highway appropriation condition is lifted, no state can be expected to engage in an informed public dialogue about the most appropriate drinking age for its territory. We believe that 18 with education works, but 19 works too. While not as glamorous as lowering the drinking age, the necessary first-step is fighting to lift the 10% highway condition, so that proponents of both 18 and 19 can be heard.

 We encourage you to discuss the merits of both 18 and 19. This topic is gaining traction in South Dakota, where a young lawyer from Flandreau, N. Bob Pesall, is starting a movement to lower the drinking age to 19. His efforts overlap with those of South Dakota state senator, Bill Napoli, who appears to be aiming for 18. Which do you prefer? Make your voice heard.

The State of Alcohol and Health

Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

Binge drinking is a public health problem, but is alcohol inherently bad for our health? Some interesting commentary from addiction expert, Dr. Stanton Peele.