You love the blog, so subscribe to the Beervana Podcast on iTunes or Soundcloud today!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Addressing Teen Drinking: License It?

Editors of the Atlantic magazine have designated the current issue "the Ideas Issue" (modestly subtitled "how to fix the world"). Here's one of their solutions, and I find it intriguing.

Between 1993 and 2001, 18-to-20-year-olds showed a 56 percent jump in the rate of heavy-drinking episodes. Underage drinkers now consume more than 90 percent of their alcohol during binges. These alarming rates have life-threatening consequences: each year, underage drinking kills some 5,000 young people and contributes to roughly 600,000 injuries and 100,000 cases of sexual assault among college students.

The way our society addresses this problem has been about as effective as a parachute that opens on the second bounce. Clearly, state laws mandating a minimum drinking age of 21 haven’t eliminated drinking by young adults—they’ve simply driven it underground, where life and health are at greater risk. Merely adjusting the legal age up or down doesn’t work—we’ve tried that already and failed....

So what might states, freed from this federal penalty, do differently? They might license 18-year-olds—adults in the eyes of the law—to drink, provided they’ve completed high school, attended an alcohol-education course (that consists of more than temperance lectures and scare tactics), and kept a clean record. They might even mandate alcohol education at a young age. And they might also adopt zero-tolerance laws for drunk drivers of all ages, and require ignition interlocks on their cars. Such initiatives, modeled on driver’s education, might finally reverse the trend of consumption by young people at ever earlier ages. Binge drinking is as serious a crisis today as drunk driving was two decades ago. It’s time we tackled the problem like adults.

The short article mentions the barrier federal law presents, so this is more a thought experiment than serious suggestion. My first reaction is positive--it does seem like a way to demystify drinking. But my second reaction arises from memories of myself, driving a car as an adolescent. I was licensed to drive, but I wasn't a responsible driver (let's just leave it there). Hmmm....

Your thoughts?


  1. I read that and the other "idea" articles. The 18 year-old "idea" seems appropriate and workable and will never become law, state by state or at the federal level. The forces against such a change are numerous.

    In practice, many parents allow their children to drink prior to the actual age minimum. We have and our friends do. Our kids, now grown up and having kids of their own, have shown a much better attitude toward drinking than I did when I was first "of age."

    While I don't expect the legal age to change, a few changes like minors allowed at all times in pubs and elimination of the goofy "drink inside the fence" rules at open air gatherings would help make responsible drinking a normal part of our lives.

  2. Lets get kids away from alcohol.

    Lets legalize Marijuana!


  3. Dr Wort may be half right on this. This is the same argument used to legalize recreational drugs. It's silly, will never work. People are irresponsible. There are people at the homebrew club who bring their wives just so they can get sloshed... On homebrew. These are adults over 21, brewers, and many bright men who understand alcohol and it's negative effects better then an 18 year old.

    Legalizing alcohol consumption for teens won't fix teenage drinking, it just makes it so it's not illeagal. Teens will still get drunk, still binge, and still act like idiots. People should realize that between birth and 20 most people aren't capable of being responsible. And those people that say they were and therefore other kids will be are just lying to themselves.

  4. ...does that mean we shouldn't legalize Marijuana? ;-}

    Maybe we should have no drinking age. That might mean parents will have to actually "parent" their children and teach them about responsibility. Oh no! Not that! That might require parents to be responsible themselves... Something we see less and less.

    On other stupid subjects...

    It's funny, we live in such a Nanny State, Oregon feels they need to protect us from everything. We're to stupid to protect ourselves.

    The state can't clean up Meth, so I can't by Zyrtec D over the counter at Walgreen's! Isn't that the most stupid thing you ever heard? Like we're going to make Meth from a single pack Allergy Medicine! Of course, if some BOZO came through the register with 30 packages of Allergy Medicine, the cashier can't say, "We're sorry but you're limited to 1-2 packs." No! That's to hard.... ;-} Then again, if you look at some of those Walgreen's cashiers, they look like they're on Meth!

    Shale we move onto the "Pumping our own gas" issue?? We're the last state who thinks the average Joe can't pump gas!! You know they're laughing in Ashville, NC! The media feeds on the local dough heads buy running bi-annual news stories about how some WOMEN from Washington lite herself on fire pumping gas.... How pathetic.

    In 30+ years in living in CA which has about 30X the population, I never heard of someone accidentally lighting themselves on fire pumping gas. On purpose, maybe! ;-}

    I'm waiting for the Oregon "TP Hot line!" A state service that can be called and a state official will bring me Toilet Paper when I run out, while sitting on the can. I hear they want to regulate what kind of Toilet paper I can buy too! You know.... We're to stupid to make that decision too!

  5. Oops. I thought I was at a beer blog, but it looks like maybe the Cato Institute or the Cascade Policy Institute.

  6. Yeah, that overt political content is a little off-topic (though I'm not surprised to find that Doc Wort is a libertarian).

    Live and learn.

  7. While not exactly a libertarian, I kind of get what Dr. W is getting at. Look at Europe where there isn't such a stigma about drinking. Kids are exposed to responsible drinking with their families and it isn't such a taboo subject. Sure there are still kids that binge drink there, but it is at a ratio closer to the adult rate of binge drinkers.

    Unfortunately, Americans seem much more inclined to send the teens to McDonald's by themselves than to take the family to McMineman's.

  8. Oh, and I agree with the Doc on both Pseudoephedrine regulation and self service gas. Our neighbor to the north is proof that both can be done in a much more effective manner than we have in this state. (sorry for the continued OT discussion)

  9. From my point of view no matter what age is set teens will still drink! As a teen you don’t care about if its legal or not its still fun and its more exciting doing it behind your parents back and also breaking the law. I believe that lowering the drinking age will only create more problems with younger kids drinking. You don’t see a 13-year-old hanging out with a 21 year old all the time. Therefore if someone who is 18 can legally buy the alcohol it will become more available for younger teens. I also would like to comment on why the government insists on regulating a problem that will never be fixable! Why not legalize marijuana? What’s so wrong with making that legal, they say it will enable more people to smoke but don’t they think making alcohol more available will enable younger kids to drink? All in all I think that this proposal will not be a smart choice in the end. We need to worry about more problems within the United States rather then try to fix a problem that will never be fixable. It’s a legal drug and therefore it will always be abused whether or not there is a drinking age.