OPINION: Cheers to 18 – Lower the legal drinking age

The mandatory legal drinking age must be lowered to manage irresponsible underage drinking habits. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/FLICKR

Welcome to the world of youthful rebellion, where house parties, fraternity gatherings and tailgates reign supreme – and where 80% of college students drink despite 40% being under legal age. 

USF has clear policies on alcohol consumption for underage consumers including loss of financial aid, suspension and even expulsion. The battle between underage drinking and hard-to-enforce laws has occurred at USF and universities nationwide.

In a society where underage drinking is common, particularly at university campuses, lowering the mandatory legal drinking age (MLDA) to 18 is a logical and even a constructive step. This change can promote a culture of responsible drinking and minimize negative experiences for college-aged people.

Both USF’s policy and state law regarding alcohol are only enforced when directly observed by authorities. But USF security is not attending house parties, and there are no RA’s at off-campus housing.

This inadvertently encourages secretive and irresponsible drinking behaviors among young students. 

The large portion of undergrads prohibited from drinking are forced to drink in unregulated environments with no bartenders to stop serving them or bouncers to keep watchful eyes. 

Without such oversight, underage drinkers are not just having a drink or two – many are binging. And this leads to dire consequences, from blackouts in fraternity yards to hospital stays. Around 10% of college students are afflicted with alcohol use disorder, compared to 6% of the general adult population.

Alcohol is a dangerous substance. Over 700,000 college students annually are assaulted by other students who have been drinking, and upwards of 1,500 college students die annually from alcohol-related accidents

Lowering the MLDA to 18 so young adults can drink moderately in controlled environments will promote safety and responsible habits. This sentiment has gained traction in recent years. 

Illinois State Representative John M. Cabello proposed a bill in March and South Carolina State Representative J. Todd Rutherford introduced a bill in 2021 to lower the legal drinking age in their respective states, the latter of which would only apply to beer and wine. Despite false rumors of Disney World lowering its legal drinking age, Florida has not followed suit.

“It is about time we stop criminalizing people for behavior we know they are going to engage in,” said Rutherford to the South Carolina House in 2021.

The largest opposition to lowering the MLDA is the possibility of increased alcohol-related car accidents. Former President Ronald Reagan cited the reduction of drunk driving as the principal reason for the 1984 National Legal Drinking Age bill.

However, this argument isn’t supported by statistics. The U.S. is only one of 12 nations with an MLDA of 21, yet the U.S. alcohol-related traffic deaths were not eradicated in doing so. 

While drinking and driving accidents have decreased in recent decades, this was not caused by raising the MLDA but instead by increased criminalization of drunk driving. This mostly occurred by means of lowering the allowed blood alcohol content (BAC) levels in states beginning in the 1970s.

It is no secret that underage drinking is happening at USF in the U.S. Rather than turning a blind eye to this issue, the state and federal government should consider a more responsible approach by lowering the legal drinking age to 18, and therefore promoting controlled and informed alcohol consumption among young adults. This could lead to a safer, more accountable drinking culture and improve the well-being of students who choose to drink.