Keep the Drinking Age High

Tamika C. B. Zapolski

Assistant professor of psychology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

www.nytimes.com

Alcohol use in the United States is a serious public health concern, particularly among teenagers and young adults.

The key to preventing alcohol abuse is to communicate the risks, harm and disapproval of its use among young people.

Recent results from a national survey found that by eighth grade, approximately 27 percent had used alcohol, which increased to 66 percent by 12th grade. Additionally, a second national survey indicated that among high school seniors, about 20 percent binge drank, consuming more than 5 drinks in one occasion, during the two-week period preceding the survey. Heavy drinking is associated with negative social, mental and physical health outcomes — including risk of violent behavior, sexual assault, accidents that cause injury, additional drug use, poor academics, legal troubles, and family and interpersonal problems. Those most likely to experience harm from heavy drinking are young people, particularly those of college age.

Thus lowering the drinking age would be harmful in two ways. First, young people, those most likely to be harmed from drinking, will have greater access to alcohol. Second, lowering the drinking age may lead to lowered perception of risk. When perception of risk from a particular substance decreases, prevalence rates tend to increase.

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