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.