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The Drinking Age: 18 or 21?
Where We Live - with John Dankosky
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Should the minimum drinking age be reconsidered?


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52:15 minutes (25.09 MB)
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Dr. Lee Peters talks with John Dankosky in WNPR's Studio 3: Photo by Libby ConnDr. Lee Peters talks with John Dankosky in WNPR's Studio 3: Photo by Libby Conn18-year-olds can vote. They can fight in a war. Should they be able to legally have a drink at the bar, too? Some colleges are asking that question.

130 college and university administrators, including six in Connecticut, have signed onto the Amethyst Initiative, calling on elected officials to review the minimum legal drinking age of 21.

They argue that current laws encourage an underground culture of binge drinking on college campuses across the country.

Critics of the initiative point to research that shows that easier access to alcohol results in, well, more drinking and an increase in the number of alcohol-related problems.

Does a lower drinking age make sense? Would it cut down on dangerous bingeing? Or, would it just get more kids drinking too soon?

Today on Where We Live, we'll talk about young people and drinking. We'll be joined today by university administrators and public health researchers. Join the conversation!

Add your suggestions, questions and comments below.

You can see pictures of Where We Live's in-studio guests on WNPR's Flickr Page.

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Amethyst Initiative

The college presidents signing in support of the Amethyst Initiative are correct in their belief that the current pervasiveness of the alcohol culture on many college campuses is unacceptable.  They are equally correct in the need to have a discussion regarding the problem.  One unintended benefit of the Amethyst Initiative is that parents have been put on notice that they should not expect that all college authorities are seriously working to control the excesses on many campuses and thus must more diligently monitor the potential consequences to their child.


The goal of the discussion needs to result in the determination of the most appropriate laws and policies which create campus environments where campus social activities on the weekends, and sometimes throughout the week, do not revolve around alcohol.  Additionally, care must be taken that a solution to the stated problem, that is most prominent and concentrated in and around college campuses, do not create health and safety problems throughout society.


The problem on too many campuses is that those who come to campus not inclined to participate in the excessive drinking practices often find that there is no escape without becoming a social recluse.  If a college’s administration has not been committed to controlling illegal and excessive drinking practices in the past, they are unlikely to become so inclined to have a commitment to controlling the alcohol culture if the drinking age were lowered.  Therefore, the problem will still exist and the institution’s obligation to address the problem is reduced.


A starting point in the discussion should be an evaluation of the studies which identified campuses where the commitment of the college administration, especially the president, are such that alcohol use is sufficiently controlled where it has not completely overtaken the campus environment.   Yes, they do exist and are likely not heavily represented as signers of the Amethyst Initiative.   While 130 college presidents support the Amethyst Initiative, those signers represent a small percentage of  all the college presidents in our country. 

 A legitimate question to raise is how many of the 130 signing presidents have not fulfilled their obligations to create "maximum opportunities for students to live in an alcohol-free environment and to engage in stimulating, alcohol-free recreational and leisure activities?"  This is not only required under federal law (which is the source of the quote), but is a moral obligation that the institutions owe to students and their families.   I know that at least one of the signing colleges did not have that commitment since my daughter was killed in an alcohol related incident at that campus.   Indifference to illegal and excessive campus drinking and associated risky activities was show to be present at that campus the fatal night and the period prior to the fatal night.   Additionally, two more students lost their lives two years later in strikingly similar circumstances at that same campus.  

Again, how many of the signing presidents would just like to be relieved of any notion that they have a responsibility to control the drinking culture on their campuses?


An extreemly sad parent

Drinking Age 18 or 21

This is an issue of respect as much as anything else.  Do adults show respect to teenagers and young adults when they make laws that supercede their personal decision making?  The reality is that individuals are ready for adult responsibilities at different ages.  Some 16-year-olds may be mature enough to go to war to defend their country, while other 25-year-olds may not be ready.  The same goes for drinking responsibly, driving responsibly, having responsible sexual activity etc.  If, as a society, we've decided that age 18 is the age at which one is considered an adult, then we need to prepare children to act as responsible adults in all areas of life, all along the way.  We do this by having conversations with our children, laying out as many sides of the issues as we can, and pointing out the consequenses for irresponsible behaviors.  This is an 18-year process if we've decided 18 is an adult.  Having the drinking age law set at 21 when we have decided that 18 is the age at which one is considered an adult for other decision making acts is a show of disrespect towards these young adults.  There is drinking in middle school, high school, and even elementary school-aged children; always has been, always will be.  Making laws to prohibit behavior doesn't seem to work very well.  Perhaps we should try respecting teenagers and young adults to make their own decisions based on open, honest conversations, and by modeling the behavior we want them to follow.  As a parent, telling a young child to do something simply "because I said so" doesn't work very well for getting desireable results, why would we think this policy should work on young adults? 

18 or 21 legal drinking

I grew up in the 70's and turned 18 the same year the drinking age was changed from 21 to 18 in 1975. All I can tell you is that the suicide rate among my friends and 18, 19 and 20 YO's went up dramatically. I don't think kids in this age group can emotionally handle adult situations.Alcohol related auto accidents doubled from years before. I lost 6 friends to suicde and 4 to accidental death within this first 3 year period.  

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The sad fact is that young people age 18 to 21 have access to alcohol at any time they want.  There are some liquor stores that sell to anyone, and there is a thriving underground market where people over 21 buy alcohol and resell to underage drinkers at a profit. 

Many parents are aware of this and allow drinking at home to avoid their children and their children’s friends drinking in some parking lot or other location where there is the threat of an accident due to driving under the influence.  Young adults are going to drink and society has a responsibility to set up a structure under which that drinking will do the least harm.  Blindly following a mantra condemning drinking, and political activism that refuses to accept this fact is short sighted and refuses to accept reality.

A concept I haven’t heard suggested is having a graduated drinking age.  I remember in the past some states had one age for beer and another for harder liquors.  I can remember years ago drinking “near beer,” or lower alcoholic beer, possibly in Ohio. 

The competitive, risk taking personality of many young adults leads to mixing drinks that have a large amount of hard liquor, or to drinking hard liquor straight.  A young man is unlikely to tell a friend who mixed him a drink that it is too strong.  If however, they are in a regulated setting, a club or restaurant, legally selling him beer, the young drinker can have an idea of how much alcohol he consumes and limit intake.

People who want to drink to excess still will.  18 to 21 year olds will still drink too much and get behind the wheel with tragic outcomes, just as happens all to often today.  We have to find alternatives that work the best they can when applied to the realities of how 18 to 21 year olds behave, understanding that the perfect alternative does not exist.

The current stiff DWI laws would still apply, and there should remain strict enforcement with low BAC levels for enforcement for 18 to 21 year olds.  The goal is to try and find some way that the inevitable drinking by young adults does the least damage to them and to the rest of society.

David Yale

Should drinking laws be changed?

Having worked in the criminal justice system for 30 years, and working the past 15 years with juveniles, I feel very strongly that the drinking age should be 18. I grew up when 18 was the drinking age.  My friends and I never went drinking with juveniles, but associated with people our own age.  However, since it is illegal for both groups (age 18-20, and 17 and under) to drink, both groups often team up for parties, and for drinking.  If an 18 year old can vote and go to war, he should be able to make the decisions about drinking.  Would 18 year olds be mature enough to handle this responsibility? Probably not.  However, now it seems that childhood extends to age 21.