Queen's University — Since 1873
30th July 2013

At lagerheads over the drinking age

CAMH recently recommended raising the drinking age, but our contributors disagree

Drinking can be an important part of student life and our contributors debate how it should be regulated.
Drinking can be an important part of student life and our contributors debate how it should be regulated. (Sam Koebrich)

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Tyler Lively, ArtSci ’ 16

Alcohol as a substance is extremely dangerous, and can have devastating effects on the user — and others — when drunk in excess.

Despite the possible negative consequences of drinking, there’s no question that we have the right to be able to purchase and consume alcohol at any age. Alcohol prohibtion is wrong on a moral level and, as any Queen’s student can attest, simply does not work.

As humans, our nature dictates that we ought to be free. We’re born with the ability to judge and make decisions: to learn, and to grow. We’ve been gifted with reason, something that makes our nature quite different from that of a common beast.

Using this reason, we can determine whether or not we own our own bodies. If we do own our own bodies, it stands that, on principle, forcing us to abide by a legal drinking age is immoral.

Being owned by all the other humans in the world is absurd. No one would be able to act without the permission of others, something that is practically impossible.

Moreover, ownership by a select few is not moral in the slightest. It assumes that some are above others, that a group is inferior to another and deserves to be exploited. Taken to its extreme, this logic leads to tyranny and oppression.

Part of human nature is taking ownership over our bodies, learning from our mistakes and building on our success.

When your head is pounding the morning after drinking, you have the ability to use your reason to determine whether the positive outweighs the negative and to live with your decision.

I’m certain there are those who would object by saying that a child’s judgement isn’t sufficiently developed to make these decisions. They would probably be right. It’s up to friends and family to take the moral responsibility for their children’s well-being instead of offloading it to lawmakers.

Rather than having the government enforce a ban on the sale to alcohol to minors with violence, as all laws ultimately are, we should be teaching our children responsible drinking and the dangers of alcohol.

From my own experiences as a Queen’s student and an adolescent in general, I have seen the very simple solutions to getting around the legal drinking age: get a friend to buy the liquor or use a fake ID; the drinking age is ignored.

Even university drinking regulations are subverted on a regular basis. I can’t count the number of my peers who drank during Frosh Week, despite the ban.

Fundamentally, natural law and a reason-based approach to human nature is not about what we are and what is, but what we can be. Government imposed laws won’t — and shouldn’t try to — protect us from ourselves.

If we as human beings want to be free to choose, we must establish ownership of our bodies, revel in the idea of taking individual responsibility and realize that liberty comes as a package deal and not à-la-carte.

Chloe Sobel, ArtSci ’ 14

The drinking age should remain 18 or 19 as opposed to being either raised or abolished. I can safely say that a nationwide drinking age is beneficial, as an American who turned 18 in England and 19 in Ontario, but isn’t yet 21.

In Europe, all but two countries have the drinking age set at 18 or below. What I’ve noticed among my European friends is a much healthier attitude towards drinking than the common American attitude. While many people still binge drink, alcohol is not a forbidden substance for European teenagers.

Underage drinking in the US has an element of risk to it that makes alcohol much more attractive for people who might normally moderate their consumption.

Because of its illegality, teenagers are more likely to engage in dangerous behaviour, such as driving drunk or binge drinking, due to the fear of being discovered drinking underage. Almost 2,000 American college students die every year from accidental alcohol-related injuries, and it’s been estimated that over three million students drive drunk.

Assault rates, both physical and sexual, are high as well, and victims of sexual assault are frequently told they were “asking for it” by either drinking or being around people who were. The United States in particular has always had an uneasy relationship with alcohol, and the legal drinking age being 21 is an expression of that.

The US once banned the sale, production and transportation of alcohol and, even today, over 500 municipalities remain dry. This is not a sign of a healthy relationship with alcohol; this is a legacy of the puritanical culture that has haunted the US since its founding. These laws and the continuing demonization of alcohol consumption have made alcohol into a forbidden fruit.

Teenagers who want to drink will do it — but when their parents and culture demonize them for drinking, they’re less likely to ask for help if they feel a situation is getting out of hand.

Wherever you go, there will always be people who abuse alcohol. However, it’s much easier to give people with unhealthy drinking habits the help they need when the system is set up to acknowledge that they exist.

For instance, Queen’s has a pub on campus as well as resources for people who have consumed too much. These resources tend not to be readily available at colleges in the US. This is not to argue that the drinking age should necessarily be lowered or abolished — while teenagers will always find a way to drink, that shouldn’t be facilitated. Legal regulation is important in order to encourage responsible drinking. With alcohol under the purview of government, it’s easier to institute public campaigns and regulate the general sale of alcohol. The brain is still developing during the teenage years and excessive consumption of alcohol damages that development. While brain health has likely never stopped anyone from drinking, knowing the long-term effects may encourage more responsible consumption of alcohol.

Research suggests that teenage drinking undermines the neurological capacities that normally protect someone from alcoholism — 47 per cent of people who start drinking before age 14 become alcoholics, as opposed to nine per cent who wait until they’re 21, regardless of genetic tendency towards alcoholism.

Alcohol should not be free for anyone to buy regardless of age. Teenagers should learn about drinking responsibly at home and in school so that when they’re able to buy alcohol legally they’ll know the consequences of their actions. A drinking age in the late teens enables a culture in which alcohol is treated with respect and caution. If it’s too high, people will view alcohol as an exciting risk, and if it’s nonexistent people won’t receive the public health education they need about its effects.

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