Why US Alcohol Laws Should Remain

This article is a response to recent Desert Lamp discourse on strict alcohol policies in the United States.

Former Daily Wildcat opinions editor and current blogger, Connor Mendenhall responded to Arizona Governor, Jan Brewer’s concerns about underage drinking:

And I thought it was bad when President Shelton brushed off the Amethyst Initiative. We don’t need yet another crackdown on underage drinking. We need sensible alcohol policy that treats students like the adults they are.

Connor seems to have a lot of faith in college students’ “adulthood” even though alcohol isn’t known for bringing out the most mature sides of people. From my experience, college aged individuals can be anything but adults, so why reward them with alcohol simply because they’re old enough to order a drink at a bar?

Two commentators have “sensible alcohol policies.” First, there’s Matt from Critical Political:

The sensible alcohol policy is to start from day 1 not treating it like mysterious forbidden fire water, and to let people make their own decisions about it from an early age. Our drinking policies don’t do anything but hide it away and make people wild-eyed crazy about drinking because it’s the forbidden fruit.

Essentially, Matt endorses the European approach, which wouldn’t work in the United States. At present, our drinking laws seem rigid, so if we were to completely shift our laws to fit Matt’s idea, the country would slip into chaos. I predict many teenagers would abuse alcohol even more, and thousands of causalities would result in the first few years of the law. Drunk driving accidents would increase, more teenagers would need their stomachs pumped from binge drinking and alcohol poisoning, and more instances of alcohol-related date rape and unwanted sexual activity would be reported and unreported.

Eventually, everyone would mature and learn to adapt to the alcohol-friendly society, but would all the deaths beforehand be worth the policy change? I won’t tolerate more alcohol-related tragedies just so I can legally get trashed. It’s not a tough decision. If this law were on the ballot and I voted in favor of it, I would be encouraging dangerous alcohol abuse and contributing to more alcohol-related deaths. I couldn’t live with myself with that kind of guilt. It’s pretty selfish of anyone to support underage drinking when the law transition period would provoke so many otherwise preventable deaths.

My theory is speculative, but I have no doubts that an increased number of underage drinkers would perish in the beginning years of this policy.

Matt brought up another interesting but debatable point:

But part of the solution to naive youth is to make them not so naive with regard to alcohol. Make it part of their lives, make it public and they’ll be less likely to do terribly stupid things with it. Put a culture around it, instead of trying to hide it away and let it develop its own ridiculous culture.

With all due respect to Matt, I don’t think the alcohol-obsessed culture is necessarily right for the United States. The French and British may drink wine with most of their meals (aside from breakfast), but life is different in America. Most people don’t drink on their lunch breaks, and the United States work ethic is much more impressive. Do you really think we could maintain the same success if we welcomed alcohol more?

I’m going to get obliterated for this, but I don’t think it’s healthy to have a culture that revolves around alcohol. This is more personal than anything, but to me, it’s really sad that Americans want alcohol to be so accessible at all times. There’s more to life than being intoxicated, so why let alcohol further corrupt our society and center our lives around it? Is our society so damaged that we cannot be ourselves without the influence of alcohol?

Why conform to the spoiled children who drink because they love the thrill of breaking rules? Matt argues that teenagers won’t be “wild-eyed crazy” about alcohol once they’re no longer rebellious for imbibing, but this requires accepting and conforming to their illegal behavior. It’s like rewarding a child who throws a tantrum when he doesn’t get what he wants. Instead of letting him learn his lesson that he can’t have everything, his mother buys him the toy he threw a fit over, and therein lies the problem of enabling.

The lack of alcohol regulations “work” in European countries because the people are so set in their ways, and I don’t think the majority of United States citizens can all come to a general consensus about lowering the drinking age. The religious Right would oppose, and even if the country eventually decided together to change the drinking laws, teenagers would abuse the new freedom in the beginning. The end result of having a more alcohol-tolerant society is not worth the inevitable deaths and blood bath beforehand. People will die from alcohol anyway, but there’s no reason to fuel the fire.


9 thoughts on “Why US Alcohol Laws Should Remain

  1. I applaud you for sticking to your stance on this, though it’s not a popular one in this particular blogosphere! My primary complaint about the drinking laws is the federal injunction that forbids states and communities to decide the drinking age for themselves — an injunction that only dates back to 1984 (ironically enough). As you note, the drinking culture is very different here than it is in Europe, but cultural standards vary quite a bit across the country, and I think communities, at least, ought to be free to decide their own standards.

    Also, if 18-year-olds aren’t old enough to responsibly drink, why do we allow them to serve in the military?

  2. Thank you, Meggie and Justyn.

    Justyn: Can’t the states have lower drinking ages if it’s decoupled from federal highway funds (from Connor’s blog response)? Most states are unwilling to lose state highway funds just so a bunch of roudy teenagers get get wasted.

    Your military argument is valid. One of my military friends actually got married after Christmas, and he couldn’t drink at his own wedding. The reason is that there is no draft right now. During the Vietnam draft, the legal drinking age was 18. Joining the military is (currently) a choice, so as long as we have that option, we don’t have the option of drinking before age 21.

  3. I actually just finished a research paper on the very topic of college drinking. I was writing in favor of maintaining a drinking age of 21 while establishing a path to “alcohol enfranchisement” for those aged 18-20 by completing a rigorous alcohol education course. They can hit up the bar, but the bartender swipes their IDs when they order their first drink, just like some stores do when I try to get hold of cigarettes. No ID, no drink. Judges and parents can suspend the permit at their discretion. Law enforcement that would normally be busting up house parties and citing 20-year-olds can instead get out on the streets and patrol for DUI offenders. It’s a compromise between MADD (the lobby that brought about the Federal Drinking Age Act and would abolish alcohol in this country if they thought they could get away with it) and the growing dissent against the age of 21.

    And on another note, I find that the enactment of social host laws are completely egregious law-and-order publicity stunts. Yeah, getting blasted at a house party is and should be criminal, but the government has imposed its legislative will on my desire to have a beer as a responsible 19-year-old, AT HOME, IN THE PRESENCE OF MY PARENTS, WITH NO GUESTS AROUND. And that’s going too far.

  4. Laura:

    As a response to the comment you just posted (since I can’t edit my post), yes. The states are allowed to have a lower drinking age than 21. The penalty for doing so is a 10% reduction of federal highway funds. Puerto Rico (who surprisingly also gets funding from the federal government for roads) has had a drinking age of 18 since forever almost in direct opposition of the law. Wyoming maintained a drinking age lower than 21 for years after the law passed, and Louisiana had a loophole that allowed the sale of alcohol to minors while simultaneously being in accordance with the letter of the act. When the Republican Congress made noise that they were not amused, Louisiana changed the law.

  5. I know that states are allowed to have a lower drinking age, but I wasn’t sure how much federal highway funds they’d lose as a result.

    “Yeah, getting blasted at a house party is and should be criminal, but the government has imposed its legislative will on my desire to have a beer as a responsible 19-year-old, AT HOME, IN THE PRESENCE OF MY PARENTS, WITH NO GUESTS AROUND. And that’s going too far.”

    I agree that it’s unreasonable to punish someone for drinking under adult supervision and in a safe environment, but unfortunately, the drinking laws are applicable to all situations. The state cannot just say, “It’s OK to underage drink in this situation, but not in that.” It makes more sense to say “no” across the board than to create exceptions.

  6. If a sudden, Heaviside-function-like change in alcohol policy would cause “chaos”, why didn’t that happen when Prohibition was repealed?

    At worst, you’ll see a week of partying from people who are probably louts already.

  7. Actually the State can say “it is unlawful in this situation but not that.” Such is the law in much of Canada, and for beer and wine (but not liquor) in Germany for 14 to 16 year olds. Louisiana, too, has well-known situational and locational exceptions, and many U.S. states have exceptions that are less well-known.

  8. Thanks for the information, Ben.

    Just a week-long string of parties? You can’t really compare it to Prohibition, which involved more adults than this situation would. If we changed the laws as Connor suggests, meaning there would be no age limit on drinking, teenagers and children alike would go insane with the new privilege.

    More than anything, I don’t think this change would go over well with some of the religious Right, and I’m positive that half the country would be opposed. In order for this law to work, the US would probably want the majority of citizens to agree on it, and I doubt this would happen.

    And as I keep saying-Why spoil the teenagers simply because they think they have a right to drink underage? Enabling is never a good thing. This country should not conform to their immature behavior.

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