Archive for June, 2012


Friday, June 29th, 2012

I was making a beef carbonade for supper, the recipe called for red wine as a flavor ingredient. When my son saw me measure and pour the wine into the stew pot, he began crying and hysterically yelling that he would not eat the stew because I had put alcohol in the cooking pot and I was going to kill our family. He said his teacher had told him all alcohol was poison. I was outraged then…and still am!


Cornell verdict highlights college hazing, again

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

The New York Times reported that on Tuesday, June 26, three Cornell students accused of hazing and killing George Desdunes, a fraternity pledge, were acquitted. The court found the three men not guilty because there was no way to determine how much the student had had to drink before partaking in a fraternity ritual. Although the men were not found guilty, the defense lawyer argued,

I emphasize that there are no winners, because someone is dead and the family is in pain, and frankly, the lives of three young men are irrevocably harmed.

This case not only lacks a winner, but the tragic death and subsequent trial are yet another incident in a long line of college hazing stories. Hazing deaths occur with uncomfortable frequency on all college campuses and in all societies. The New York Times writes,

Mr. Desdunes’s death focused attention on the rituals that some fraternities and sororities undertake when inducting new pledges. National studies indicate that hazing — dares or challenges that often involve binge drinking and even violence — is common on college campuses across the country. In November, a drum major at Florida A&M University was beaten to death in what the Florida authorities described as a marching band hazing ritual; 13 people have been charged in his case.

Desdunes’ untimely death highlights the mistique surrounding college alcohol consumption and its use in hazing rituals. Students who go to college without an understanding of how to consume alcohol appropriately. As many hazing cases indicate, alcohol then becomes the tool used to initiate new members and the results of not teaching responsibility can be deadly.

“National Birthday Party”

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

“Ever since Congress passed the Uniform Drinking Age Act of 1984, turning 21 has become a national birthday party, in every state, in every community. “You go out, hang out with you friends, you drink a s*itload, and you throw up,” says one 21-year-old. “and if you don’t throw up then your friends didn’t do their job.”

–From GuylandThe Perilous World Where Boys Become Men by Michael Kimmel


[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?


Thursday, June 14th, 2012

It is wise to never take a stance on the limitations of science, since the argument will inevitably become outdated and sound ludicrous.  But I have a hunch that there is some serious overstatement occurring presently in the field of adolescent neurology.  An Op-ed in the NYTimes by Mike Males provides the painful details:

Commentators brand teenagers as stupid, crazy, reckless, immature, irrational and even alien, then advocate tough curbs on youthful freedoms. Jay Giedd, who heads the brain imaging project at the National Institutes of Health, argues that the voting and drinking ages should be raised to 25. Deborah Yurgelun-Todd, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, asks whether we should allow teenagers to be lifeguards or to enlist in the military. And state legislators around the country have proposed raising driving ages.  But the handful of experts and officials making these claims are themselves guilty of reckless overstatement. More responsible brain researchers — like Daniel Siegel of the University of California at Los Angeles and Kurt Fischer at Harvard’s Mind, Brain and Education Program — caution that scientists are just beginning to identify how systems in the brain work.

With regards to alcohol and adolescents (if that’s what we want to call 18-20 year-olds), there is neurological evidence that alcohol has more pronounced effects on younger brains than older brains in laboratory settings.  Where researchers are diverting from the trail of science, is when they begin to attribute real world behavioral differences strictly to neurological differences.  This may very well be the case, but the current research is presently incapable of assessing these behavioral connections.  Sadly, certain individuals in the field of neurology are potentially exaggerating the magnitude of adolescent/adult differences, and using the alleged behavioral evidence as an excuse to enact ever more stringent restrictions on young adults.

Social Isolation and Alcohol Abuse

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

Findings from a recent University of Texas at Austin study indicate that teenagers who abuse alcohol are more likely to feel socially isolated than their non-drinking peers. According to the study, in schools characterized by tight-knit friend groups, “alcohol consumption leads to increased social stress and poor grades.”The study was conducted as part of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a comprehensive study of adolescent behavior.

The study, funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, has resulted in recommendations for how public schools should incorporate nonacademic dimensions of school life and youth development in attempts to meet academic accountability benchmarks.

Testimonial: Contrasts

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

“…Contrast that to today. Drinking is at fraternities and off-campus. No university officials are around to help out. Much more drinking involves driving. Much more drinking is done hastily before going to campus events. Instead of learning to drink responsibly, kids today learn to drink quickly, secretly, and away from adult supervision…”

Guest Post: Bad Policy, Bad Outcomes

Monday, June 11th, 2012
Eric Wilson, a political strategist in Washington, D.C., interviewed former [CR] president John McCardell last week. Today he offers CR’s readers his thoughts on the legal policy surrounding the drinking age.
Drinking Age 21: Bad Policy, Bad Outcomes

The primary argument in support of adjusting the drinking age are well-known, and Dr. McCardell, founder of Choose Responsibility, sums it up in his recent New York Times op-ed:
Although our laws acknowledge that at age 18 young adults possess sufficient maturity and judgment to operate a motor vehicle, serve in the military, perform jury duty or sign a contract, those same laws deny 18-year-olds the right to purchase, possess or consume alcohol.

Dr. McCardell also points out that the law is routinely evaded by those under 21. From my own experience, as a proctor during my undergraduate years, charged with enforcing drinking rules, I can say that administrators, like Dr. McCardell, are placed in the unenviable — and unsustainable — position of enforcing two different sets of rules.
In fact, administrators are stretched in two, opposite directions: on one hand you have a legal responsibility to enforce a law that says no one under the age of 21 may consume alcohol at any time. You also have the responsibility of ensuring that your students, who, despite the law, decide to drink — just like the vast majority of their peers under the age of 21 — are doing so safely.So why would anyone oppose the return to a drinking age aligned with the age of majority in this country?Critics of a more reasonable drinking age point to the success of Age 21 in lowering alcohol-related traffic fatalities, but a closer look at the statistics show that fatalities are down across the board. By making the practice of drunk driving, and not the drinking itself, taboo, safe driving advocates have succeeded in preventing countless deaths and injuries.

Drinking Age 21, however, does nothing to prepare young adults for that day when they do turn 21 and are able to drink alcohol legally. Dr. McCardell proposes a license that would allow young adults under 21 to drink legally, if they complete a course of education, much like we do with driving.

I had the opportunity to discuss this licensing proposal in a recent video chat with Dr. McCardell, which you can watch by clicking here.

The conversation in the public square is an important one to have, but we have to follow it up with action. The drinking age is set by the individual states, but federal law imposes severe penalties with respect to transportation funding, if they don’t meet the national of Age 21.

The states, long-envisioned as the laboratories of our Democracy, should be free to explore alternatives, like a licensing system, without fear of being punished by the federal government. Groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), make it impossible for lawmakers to have a reasonable discussion about Drinking Age 21 as a failed public policy that needs to be changed, but Americans — especially my generation — are learning to recognize and support bold leadership that isn’t afraid to make much needed reforms.

Lawmakers should be most concerned about the impact of the failed drinking age policy on young adults’ views of our legal system. As Dr. McCardell notes, young adults “know that a law perceived as unjust, a law routinely violated, can over time breed disrespect for law in general.”


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.)