Alcohol abuse, freshman style

Alan Duff

The start of the 2011-2012 academic year at Lawrence means many things: the end of summer, possibly a better roommate than last year and, of course, hundreds of new freshmen. Along with the freshmen come many awkward goodbyes, shy hellos and a newfound freedom that has never been experienced while under their parent’s eye.

With their newfound freedom comes responsibility — which many freshmen across the nation neglect, along with the idea of moderation. No longer under the wing, these students push the limits of drinking to the point of black out, vomiting or a trip to the hospital. The Journal of American College Health reported that in 2001, 62 percent of all underage college students admitted to drinking in the past month.

Obviously the law isn’t a strong enough deterrent to underage drinking on campuses across the United States, but then how could it be? When half a student body has easy, legal access to alcohol and the other half doesn’t, it only encourages underage drinking. When underage students look to the upperclassmen, instead of role models they see what they are missing out on.

On the other hand, if the legal age for drinking were 18 — the same age when you become an adult in the eyes of the “law” — it would be much easier to combat problems like binge drinking, alcohol poisoning and alcoholism on campuses. New college students could drink with older students and adults in a setting safer than their dorm room. There would be no need for secretive drinking, and no danger of drinking too much with strangers that don’t care. Bars could also help prevent students from drinking to the point of blacking out and getting sick by refusing to serve further.

In fact, it hardly makes sense for the drinking age to be 21, when at 18 students could be introduced to alcohol in a much safer setting at home that wouldn’t encourage them to binge drink.

So why was the National Minimum Drinking Age Act passed in 1984, then? Simply put, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, founded in 1980, campaigned until they generated enough public interest for Congress to step in and pass a law.

However, instead of explicitly creating an alcohol awareness campaign and writing stricter DUI laws, the National Minimum Drinking Age Act raised the national drinking age to 21 to stop underage drinkers from bypassing drinking laws that differed from state to state. If Congress had instead made the national drinking age 18, they could have solved this problem without encouraging the current collegiate drinking problems.

However, decreasing the drinking age to 18 so that there is uniform access to alcohol in college would only solve part of the problem. In European countries, the age limit for alcohol is much more fluid and on paper is normally 18.

European laws uphold zero-tolerance with drinking and driving, and consequently there are fewer drunk driving-related accidents in many European countries.

The problem here is the United States has one of the highest legal blood alcohol concentrations of any developed country at .08 percent, and lowering this amount would help reduce drunk driving and further the original mission of MADD.

An even better approach to this problem would be to implement a policy similar to Canada’s, in which drivers under a certain age aren’t allowed to have any alcohol in their system. So someone could drink at 18, but would not be allowed to operate a vehicle until the alcohol had completely left their system.

Finally, spending money on education would help solve the problem. Informing young adults about safe drinking habits would go a long way.

If Prohibition taught us anything, it was that people will always find a way to get alcohol. The goal is not to prevent students from drinking in college — that’s unavoidable. The goal is to teach students how to consume alcohol safely.