Viewpoint: Drinking Age

We asked readers to weigh in on a proposal by college presidents to lower the drinking age.


In a recent issue, Laura Dean-Mooney and John McCardell debated a proposal by college presidents to lower the drinking age. Dean-Mooney said the law saves lives; McCardell that it has created a secret binge-drinking culture. A sample of your thoughts.

If young brains are not developed well enough to cope with alcohol use at 18, then are they well developed enough to cope with the pressure of driving a vehicle at 16?

T. Marshall Hopkins

McElhattan, Pa.

When I was a midshipman in the early '80s, we could drink beer on a military base. If I can serve in the military and be trusted with weapons, why can't I be trusted with beer?

John Mulligan

Richmond, Va.

In his recent article, John McCardell indicates that a 2002 college drinking report, prepared by an independent task force convened by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, "advises [college] presidents to, in effect, break the law," by teaching "students basic principles of moderate drinking." As former chairs of this task force, we wish to correct this mischaracterization. In fact, moderate drinking and other harm reduction strategies outlined in the report are part of a larger message about protecting the health and safety of the entire college student population, a portion of which is of legal drinking age. The harm reduction recommendations are treatment options for students already involved in counseling for alcohol abuse issues and not as campuswide prevention strategies. The issue of college student drinking, which is embedded within the larger issue of underage drinking in general, is complex. Aspects of this issue fall within legal and policy, as well as purely scientific, domains. This complexity was well captured within the report. We wish to underscore, however: If one is focused on the health and well-being of college students as they are affected by their drinking practices, the preponderance of scientific evidence at this time supports maintaining the drinking age as it currently stands.

Edward A. Malloy and Mark Goldman

NIAAA Task Forceon College Drinking
Bethesda, Md.

When a drastic policy such as Prohibition is not working, then it is time to think again. We need to change the binge-drinking culture that now predominates in the United States and replace it with a Mediterranean approach (teach the joys of moderate drinking).

Katherine van Wormer

Cedar Falls, Iowa

I see little evidence that lowering the drinking age would actually benefit anyone except the college presidents whose campuses would no longer be so pervasively in violation of the law.

Eric Puckett

Hillsville, Va.

There are lots of people across the country who run red lights. I haven't heard yet of anyone trying to outlaw red lights because "People are going to run red lights anyway."

Gloria O. Wright

Mesa, Ariz.

I went to Dartmouth, a school rather familiar with John Barleycorn, so I can speak with some authority that open access to alcohol did not lead to a lot of binge drinking or auto accidents. Why hit the road when you could walk up and down Fraternity Row and, if you passed out from foolish overconsumption, end up on a couch or lawn? Two things seem self-evident: You can't legislate morality, and learning to responsibly consume alcohol is a task that falls between 18 and 22, whether people are in the military, college, or the workforce. Why has most of the rest of the world accepted this, and we haven't?

Mark Stitham

Kailua, Hawaii

I am English but have lived in the United States for 35 years. This topic has always seemed bizarre to me. At 18, an individual is old enough to marry and raise a family, fight and possibly die in the military, and vote in elections—hugely responsible decisions. However, at 18, this same individual is not responsible enough to drink. This is truly absurd. The issue is not about drinking. The real issue is being able to drive at 16, which is a mistake in this day and age. As I understand it, driving at a young age was valuable when this was an agrarian society, so young boys could help their fathers by taking produce to market. These days, there is zero justification for driving at 16.