Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Froma Harrop is Wrong about Lowering the Drinking Age

In her recent column promoting the idea of lowering the drinking age to eighteen, columnist Froma Harrop starts with a logical fallacy and doesn't get any better than that in her arguments. Granted, any specific age limit or barrier is inherently arbitrary - PG movies, driving, smoking, drinking, car rental, hotel rental, voting, and other rights are all restricted by an invented age at which society deems the individual "mature enough" for the responsibility. And, we know that's a guess at best. There are incredibly mature and responsible sixteen-year-olds and ridiculously immature and irresponsible forty-five year olds. That said, Harrop's claim that we should "Let 18-year-olds Drink" is simply not a sound argument.

Of course, Harrop starts with the classically flawed and deceptive appeal that qualifiying for military service should entitle a young soldier to drink to his success or drink away his stresses. And, that's simply illogical. There is no correlation between being allowed to enlist, follow orders, and kill for the government and maturely and responsbily handle alcohol. One "right" and responsibility literally has nothing to do with the other. And, considering everything we know about trauma and post-traumatic stress and depression and anxiety associated with military service, it might seem logical that the last thing we want these "boys" doing at the age of 18 is drinking.

And, then she goes straight to the tired and inconclusive European mis-direction as well. Harrop argues that a German sixteen-year-old can "ask for beer or wine." But that doesn't mean he should. Simply because European countries allow it doesn't mean it is appropriate. German and French teens are not "more responsible" with alcohol use simply because they can drink legally earlier. And American teens and college students are not "binge drinking" simply because it is illegal. Younger people worldwide are more irresponsible with drinking, and people become more responsible with age. And, it's important to read this extensive analysis from German Lopez of Vox.com, where he curates all the most recent and relevant data about Europe's teen drinking problem.

The answer, it seems, is that Europe is not doing fine. If you look at the data, there's no evidence to support the idea that Europe, in general, has a safer drinking culture than the US. According to international data from the World Health Organization, European teens ages 15 to 19 tend to report greater levels of binge drinking than American teens. This continues into adulthood. Total alcohol consumption per person is much higher in most of Europe. Drinkers in several European countries — including the UK, France, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, and Iceland — are also more likely to report binge drinking than their US counterparts. Younger teens in Europe appear to drink more, as well. David Jernigan, an alcohol policy expert at Johns Hopkins University, studied survey data, finding that 15- and 16-year-old Americans are less likely to report drinking and getting drunk in the past month than their counterparts in most European countries.

Simply put, there is no conclusive logical reason we should lower the drinking age. Raising it to twenty-one dramatically decreased drunk-driving accidents among the youth. Prohibition does delay drinking for a considerable number of people. And, as medical science advances, and we learn more about the deleterious effects of drugs and alcohol on brains before the age of twenty-one, it seems irresponsible to lower the age and send the message that drinking earlier is OK and even a good idea.

Because it's not.

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