Edit desk: Switch the age, turn the page


Madison Hite

Binge drinking. Pregaming. Let’s take a shot. I’m going to black out tonight.

These terms might be the biggest threat to the lives of American teenagers today.

Before every night out, underage party-goers drink as much alcohol as possible, and then head out for the night’s festivities.


Drinking under the age of 21 is illegal, making it “necessary” for teens to drink as much as possible under the privacy of their own rooves for fear of a public citation.

Binge drinking is responsible for more than 4,300 deaths annually and is linked to an average of 189,000 emergency room visits per year for people under 21.

We don’t need to fight with the Lehigh administration. We don’t need to threaten to transfer to another school. We don’t need to sabotage our relationship with the Lehigh police.

What needs to change?

The drinking age. The United States is one of the only developed nations where the drinking age is 21.

At 18, I can sit on a jury and send someone to jail for the rest of their life. I can vote. I can enter a contract. I can own a gun and fight in a war.

Questioning an individual’s “mental capacity” to consume an alcoholic beverage contradicts every responsibility an individual assumes at 18. At war, I have the “mental capacity” to decide to end someone’s life or not, but not to consume a beer in my home.

Binge drinking could be largely reduced. American teenagers don’t drink responsibly because they haven’t learned how to through their parents and past social situations.

In the U.S., more than 90 percent of alcohol consumed by underage drinkers is through binge drinking. In Europe, 24 percent of 15- to 24-year-olds binge drink at least once a week. Europeans consume more alcohol, but their culture encourages them to safely learn their limits.

The illegal nature of alcohol in college only creates curiosity and excitement. Pregames and binge drinking prosper. If teenagers are exposed to alcohol in a safe way before college, they will grasp the concept that  drinking socially with friends is better than drinking to the point of hospitalization.

If the drinking age were 18, there’s a chance Timothy Piazza would still be alive, and not just another name recognized nationwide for an alcohol-related death. The decisions that members of his Penn State fraternity made that night are inexcusable and inhumane, but those individuals would have been much more likely to call for help if they weren’t afraid of legal repercussions. There’s no fear of getting in trouble if there’s no trouble to get into.

In American teen culture, people drink to the point of “blacking out” because they think they deserve it, especially  in celebration after a long week of tests and obligations. If the culture shifted, people wouldn’t be as determined to drink as much as they can in an hour.

No matter what a situation looks like, saving someone’s life should outweigh the fear of getting an individual or an organization in trouble. After a tragedy, we curse those for not calling, for not caring enough, while the reality is most people would act the same way.

“What if my fraternity gets kicked off?” “What if I get in trouble?” “This is her third citation — she might be kicked out of school.”

People forget the decision is a matter of life or death in that moment, not something they should be afraid of getting in trouble for. That’ll happen no matter what. The ambiguous concept of medical amnesty and the fear factor that goes along with it would be eliminated if the drinking age were changed.

The main argument for keeping the drinking age at 21 is the prevalence of drunk driving. Since 1991, the number of teens who drink and drive has decreased by 54 percent. However, texting while driving is six times more likely to cause an accident than driving drunk. Eleven teens die every day as a result of texting while driving.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving has done an excellent job of educating millennials of the danger of drunk driving. At my high school, no one ever thought twice about drinking and driving — we would Uber to social events instead.

Texting while driving is more prominent and more of a relative issue among teens than drunk driving is. The law has become outdated.

We need to stop complaining about something that we aren’t doing anything about. It is time for the United States to change the drinking age back to 18.

Madison Hite, ’20, is an assistant sports editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected].

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1 Comment

  1. Robert Davenport on

    My goal was to allow my children to drink at home in an environment that they would be able to experience alcohol use in a normal manner with meals or in special situations. and to promote responsibility. After all responsibility is the most important idea. Why not do away with any age requirements? I’d rather have a responsible teenager drink than an idiotic 40 year old.

    The article makes the point that texting is effectively more serious than drinking for teenagers. I would be willing to bet that any risky behavior is worse for teenagers than for older persons. Our modern society has more dangerous risky behaviors available then ever before. Luckily todays teenagers are generally smarter and streetwise than past generations. Unfortunately they do not seem to have more common sense.

    School officials can’t ignore the potentially fatal activities occuring at Lehigh. Practically everyone, except many fellow students, want to see responsible behavior from Lehigh students. When Lehigh students require responsible fun, editorials such as this will be unnecessary.

    Party sensibly.

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