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Solutions and Alternatives to the Drinking Age

Current policies involving young people and alcohol are both ineffective and discriminatory. Our society needs to implement smarter policies that address the potential dangers of drinking for everyone – not just young people. Here are some suggestions on how to both adopt better alcohol policies and mitigate the damage of the current ones. Some solutions can be implemented at the local level, while others require national support. Some are short-term solutions, while others can be used to replace current policies. All of them are efforts to address the dangers of alcohol without relying on discrimination.

Provide comprehensive alcohol education.

Public policy that requires complete abstinence from a popular activity will often rely on telling people to “just say no.” However, this method is both unrealistic and has negative consequences. We see this in places that have adopted an abstinence-only model of sex education and have had their rates of unplanned pregnancy and STD transmission increase considerably, largely due to ignorance about safe sex. Likewise, any public policy that ignores that fact that most people don’t wait until they are 21 to have their first drink, will inevitably encourage binge drinking due to ignorance about safe alcohol use.

Implement Medical Amnesty policies.

Medical Amnesty policies, also known as 911 Good Samaritan or Lifeline policies, protect underage drinkers from punishment if they call for help during an emergency related to alcohol or other drugs. As of 2017, thirty-seven states have passed statewide Medical Amnesty laws. Many colleges and universities have also implemented these policies so that underage drinkers also do not receive disciplinary action. These policies have shown to be effective in increasing people’s likelihood of calling emergency services when needed.

 

Provide student-led designated drivers programs.

Student-led designated driver programs are practiced at universities, sororities, and fraternities where members of that establishment select a sober driver to safely transport intoxicated individuals. These programs have been a legitimate solution for reducing drunk driving. Unfortunately, there are many barriers that get in the way of providing this policy, such as the university or chapter not wanting to give the impression that they encourage excessive consumption of alcohol.

End parental notification policies for student drug & alcohol offenses.

Over the years, more and more colleges have been implementing policies that allow them to report cases of underage drinking to parents. Usually, students’ right to privacy is protected by the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Colleges are not allowed to share a student’s academic information to anyone, even if the parents pay tuition and the student is under 18. Unfortunately, however, FERPA does allow colleges to inform parents of any reports of underage drinking. These policies may prevent students from getting help if in fact they do have a problem.

Allow parents to monitor alcohol use.

Just like any activity in life, drinking responsibly is an activity that one must learn. Years ago, this took place in one’s family. Parents were allowed to demonstrate healthy drinking practices and to monitor use. Currently, we deny this education to millions of young people. Rather than a gradual introduction to drinking over the period of several years, the current attitude towards youth drinking says that a person shouldn’t have a drop of alcohol until their 21st birthday, and at that time it is perfectly fine to consume as much hard liquor as they want. Parents should be allowed to educate young people on responsible drinking habits by introducing them to alcohol gradually, in both small quantities and with beverages low in alcohol content, such as beer or wine. In this model, parents would be obligated to present an example of moderate drinking.

This policy is currently allowed in 31 states, where an individual under the age of 21 may possess and consume alcohol in a private residence with their parents, guardians, or spouses of legal drinking age. There have been also attempts to expand this policy into licensed drinking establishments. Former Minnesota state representative Phyllis Kahn proposed a bill that would allow underage people to drink in bars and restaurants if accompanied by a parent or guardian, or spouse that is of legal age. In the state of New Hampshire, a bill was filed that would allow individuals aged 18-20 to drink as long as they are accompanied by someone older than 21.

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