How to cure campus binge drinking: lower the drinking age

As someone who went to college when Texas raised the drinking ago from 18 to 21 (with a corresponding crackdown on public drinking by my university), I remember how student behavior changed: students began chugging beers in the privacy of their dorm rooms to get drunk before they headed out to that night’s party.

Activists, administrators, and national policymakers concerned about a supposed epidemic of rape on college campuses should stop trying so damn hard to regulate students’ sex lives. Instead, their efforts would be better spent lobbying Congress to abolish a law that puts students at risk of sexual assault by encouraging them to consume alcohol recklessly: the National Minimum Drinking Age Act.

There is some evidence, however, that raising the drinking age might have actually worsened the teen binge-drinking problem. It’s easy to imagine why that might be the case: if drinking any amount of alcohol is illegal for 18-year-olds, those who want to drink anyway have every incentive to down as much booze a quickly as possible, thus minimizing the amount of time they could be caught by the cops holding a beer in their hands.

Shay / FlickrThe drinking age also creates a black market in alcohol consumption for college kids, most of whom are under 21 but drink anyway—just as their great-grandparents did during Prohibition. Teenage college students can’t legally buy booze from the corner store or enjoy an afternoon or evening of casual drinking at the bar; instead, they have to seek out older students who are willing to give them alcohol. This means paying a visit to a friend-of-a-friend’s basement, or diving head-first into the house party circuit and imbibing from a tub of mystery liquid. Fraternities, in particular, often play the role of beer distributors to the underage crowd.

These environment are manifestly less safe for teen drinkers than drinking at home or at a bar. But they are where teens must turn, thanks to NMDAA.

Stephen By Stephen

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Professor and quant guy. Libertarian turned populist Republican. Trying to learn Japanese and play Spanish Baroque music on the ukulele.

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