Old enough to hold a gun, too young to take a shot
Freshman year: my friend is slumped over his chair, sitting in his own throw-up. Apparently, when we weren’t looking, he snuck twenty shots while we were hanging out in his room. Now, he can’t keep his head straight, can’t open his eyes, and is begging us to not call the campus police through minimal words. After half an hour of electrolytes, water, and more vomiting, we all surround him, weighing out the morally correct thing to do. We know that medical amnesty would protect him, but there’s more to consider: the cost of an ambulance, what might happen to him if his parents find out, and his own demand to stay put.
I think to myself that my parents wouldn’t care and would want me to get help. But it’s unfair to assume that his parents are the same. In fact, perhaps it’s because they’re stricter that he felt the need to rebel.
We decide that he needs help, and when the Emergency Support Team (EST) comes and our friend can’t even tell them his own name, we’re confident we made the right decision. But getting to this decision wasn’t easy, and unfortunately, it also wasn’t all that uncommon — at WashU and around the country.
Medical amnesty is a necessity, and I’m thankful that it exists. However, the fact that we even need it points to a larger problem. Why are there so many ambulances on the South 40? Why are so many students, especially freshmen, drinking to a point of serious danger?
There are a great number of factors leading to this problem, but if I had to boil it down to one broad origin, it’s that the minimum drinking age should be much lower than 21. At first, this might seem counterintuitive. How can making alcohol more accessible to younger people lead to fewer drinking problems?
The common argument here is that 18 year olds can serve in the army, pay taxes, and vote. They are recognized as adults when it comes to operating a gun and participating in democracy, yet when it comes to alcohol, they’re too young to decide for themselves whether or not they want to indulge.
I would agree with this line of reasoning, but I also acknowledge that it fails to consider another point of view: according to most research, the average human brain is not fully developed until the age of twenty-five. This is where the heart of political contention on this issue lies: the boiling point where one side rightfully believes they’re in line with science and the other rightfully believes they’re in line with cultural standards.
However, the side “for science” fails to understand that recognizing a problem and addressing it are two very distinct processes. Neither side denies that underage drinking is a physical health concern. The difference is that one side chooses to see that the current restrictions in place don’t actually prevent drinking, and if anything, they lead to less regulated, more impulsive substance abuse.
The United States is one of only twelve countries with a minimum drinking age of 21. Our DUI and alcohol-related death rates skyrocket past nearly all other Western countries. When younger populations are exposed to alcohol, it becomes culturally acceptable for them to learn how to use it properly. Not only is there less thrill in drinking legally, but it helps disrupt the idea that blacking out (or getting to a point of total unconsciousness) is the only reason drinking should be done, a horrible mindset shared by too many American college students.
I continue to question why so many of my friends ended up in similar situations last year. A common thread I’ve found is that my friend group is composed of similar people. Generally speaking, we were all nerds in high school. Either we had no desire to drink or weren’t allowed to and never dared to question why not. Those friends of mine with the strictest parents were the ones who ended up in the poorest situations their first time drinking. They were subconsciously rebelling, consciously testing their limits, and unconsciously ending up in the hospital.
Lowering the drinking age won’t immediately solve every drinking problem, but it’s the start of a cultural shift. Science and culture do not have to be at odds with each other. A simultaneous recognition of a factual problem and an applicable, realistic solution are necessary when it comes to parenting. The government is quite literally the parent of our nation. They can continue to hide alcohol from us, stigmatize it, and tell us it’s bad. Or they can stop pretending that telling people not to do something ever actually prevents them from doing it. Maybe look around at other nations and figure out why kids who started being exposed to alcohol at sixteen aren’t typically the ones ending up in the hospital every weekend.