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Tempest in a bottle

Should drinking alcohol be legal at 18, instead of 21? Now that college presidents have proposed a debate, here are the statistics and the science that could shape the outcome.

September 01, 2008|Shari Roan | Times Staff Writer

"You can't make conclusions without looking at what the research literature says," she says. "McCardell makes these alternative proposals without backing up that they work."

Next month, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University will sponsor a conference, "How to Stop Wasting the Best and the Brightest: Substance Abuse at America's Colleges and Universities."

Choose Responsibility's proposal on lowering the drinking age will be open for debate, Foster says. In addition to the petition asking college presidents to consider a lower drinking age, Choose Responsibility proposes that 18-year-olds should be able to consume alcohol with parents and take a course that, upon completion, grants a license to purchase, possess and consume alcohol.

"It's not 1984 any more," McCardell says. "Who can object to examining this closer? We need to do whatever we can as parents, college presidents, responsible citizens to minimize the harm that people do to other people. That is a reasonable goal of public policy."




Pros and cons of a lower drinking age

The evidence for and against lowering the minimum legal drinking age from 21 to 18:

Support for age 21 laws:

Alcohol-related traffic accidents have declined since the early 1980s.

Earlier onset of drinking leads to a higher risk of later alcohol dependence.

The brain develops through the early 20s and alcohol may harm the developing brain.

Countries with lower minimum drinking ages have had serious problems with binge drinking among youth.

Rates of drinking among high school students have dropped.

Support for a lower minimum drinking age:

The decline in traffic accidents may have to do with other factors besides a higher drinking age.

The biggest effect on later risk of alcohol dependence is for people who start drinking in their early teens as opposed to ages 18 to 21.

There is little evidence that mild or moderate drinking harms the developing brain.

Some evidence exists that teens in countries with a lower drinking age are less likely to drink to intoxication.

Rates of binge drinking among college-age youths have increased.

-- Shari Roan

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