Legal drinking age debate heats up

Hannah Misner

Under-age alcohol use is a serious concern at colleges and universities, and Villanova is no exception. The United States is the only nation with such a large underage drinking problem amd with a drinking age at 21, the United States is also one of only five countries with a drinking age over 18. There are many people who believe that lowering the drinking age in America would decrease alcohol abuse by eliminating the factor of rebellion, the necessity of secrecy and the consequent danger of binge drinking.

Others propose increased education about safe alcohol use or even a “learner’s permit” for young people, designed to integrate them gradually and wisely into alcohol use. Determining whether or not lowering the drinking age would reduce binge drinking is especially difficult since liberal countries in Europe have recently been reporting problems with binge drinking, even with lower drinking ages.

Nevertheless, Dr. Roderic B. Park, a long-time college administrator said, “Our young people will be more responsible when properly educated and given appropriate responsibility with guidance and positive societal expectations.”

Park proposes “learner’s permits,” which would be available by application for underage people to consume limited amounts of alcohol, similar to the driver’s permit. However, once someone turns 21, he/she can still buy and consume alcohol legally without the educational courses and training required for a permit. Since it is relatively easy for underage drinkers, especially in college, to obtain alcohol, this permit may not seem worth the time for many kids.

Dr. Ruth Engs, professor of applied health sciences at Indiana University in Bloomington, proposes a similar approach to alcohol use. Her proposal, however, does not require applications and paperwork in the form of a permit. Engs proposes that the drinking age should be universally lowered for use in limited circumstances, these being “socially controlled environments such as restaurants and official school and university functions.”

Kendal Kelly, a freshman, agrees that the paperwork and complex procedure of a permit is illogical. “The system is so complicated that it seems loopholes could be found easily and it would be too difficult to enforce the restrictions of the permit,” Kelly said.

Along with this, Engs also advocates a law legalizing alcohol use by people of all ages when under direct supervision of their parents in their own home. Then, at the age of 21, people could purchase alcohol and have unlimited use within the confines of the law. Her proposal is designed to gradually ease young people into alcohol use.

Engs compares the alcohol abuse of today’s teens to the abuse among the general public during the U.S. attempt at prohibition at the state level in the 1850s and at the national level from 1920 to 1933. Prohibition created a sharp rise in social problems, including immoderate alcohol consumption, growth in organized crime and widespread disrespect for the law.

What we have today is prohibition within an age group, and those who are restricted have behaved somewhat in the same manner. Given that alcohol use is illegal for those under 21, when underage consumption does occur, kids think they have to drink while they can and/or drink quickly in order to prevent getting caught. This is when binge drinking happens.

The common opinion among Villanova public safety officers is that the drinking age is “low enough” as it stands. However, many nationwide feel the opposite, and propose plans such as those outlined by Engs and Park.

With innumerable studies to support both sides, the debate will continue as to why American citizens can marry, join the military, sign legally binding contracts and vote at the age of 18, but they cannot drink alcohol. A 20-year old couple cannot even legally toast champagne at their wedding reception.

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