I was 18 when I had my first drink with my dad.
He sat me down to have a conversation about alcohol in light of my first and fast-approaching semester at Hillsdale: “I understand that it seems arbitrary,” he said, “but it’s really not that big of a deal. You should just obey the law. You have to wait only a couple years. In the meantime, why don’t you just drink with me?” That seemed reasonable, and I love my dad. So, more out of respect for my father than agreement with the state, I obeyed the law.
Yet, I really do think that the drinking age ought to be lowered to 18.
Why? Because as it stands now, the law doesn’t work. Rather than protecting underaged drinkers from the dangers of alcohol, the drinking age nannies a group of young adults who ought to be exercising their capacity to act responsibly.
Look, the obvious evil here is binge drinking. Binge drinking is stupid, unhealthy, and in many cases, dangerous. But the 21 drinking age does not fix this problem. The government can’t legislate against stupidity. The kind of person who habitually drinks himself to sleep is the same person who will break the law to get his hands on a pint. He will spend hard-earned cash on a fake ID, or he will hire an older person to buy alcohol for him. The barrier to booze does not keep a drunkard from the bottle. It only drains his wallet and his integrity.
The only people that are going to keep that law are the responsible, law-abiding citizens — people who could probably handle themselves around alcohol and who frankly deserve a good drink. The drinking age does nothing but withhold the joy of a good drink from those who deserve it and increase the wretchedness of the people who don’t.
The drinking age creates a culture of extremes, especially at college. It forces students to choose between either a square’s-night-in with Coke and Catan, or a night of crime at a college party. As much as I love board games, I understand that they aren’t for everyone. The law leaves no middle ground for college students. You are either a prude or a criminal.
In addition, the law creates a sub-culture of excess. Instead of going to a public bar to grab a drink with buddies under the watchful eye of God and the world, covert drinkers gather in the seedy corners of campus, where the din of blaring music mixes and stirs a crowd of Red Solo cups. There, in an act of rebellion, they drink as much as they possibly can. Thus the drinking age inadvertently creates an outlying community where drunkenness is not only acceptable, but also expected. Obviously, college parties would not vanish if the legal drinking age were lowered to 18, but the culture on campus would change for the better. If students were allowed to drink at parties, they might not feel the freedom that comes from having already broken the law — the same freedom that encourages further law breaking. Think about it: If you have to break a law in order to have a drink, then what is stopping you from breaking another? For example, a minor drinking on the sly isn’t going to coordinate with a designated driver. He’s much more likely to attempt driving himself home to avoid discovery.
Rather than forcing students to choose between prudishness and crime, the government should give them the chance to choose between moderation and excess. Due to the immediate biological effects of binge drinking, this choice is fundamentally easier to make. In addition, lowering the drinking age would provide college students with a myriad of alternate avenues for more reserved alcohol consumption.
Young adults don’t need to be babied. They need to be called up to responsibility. Rather than trying (and failing) to restrict college students access to alcohol, the government ought to foster a culture of responsibility.
But in the meantime, we ought to obey the law; because guys, it’s just not that big of a deal.
Aaron Andrews is a senior studying English.