***AUTHOR’S NOTE: Last names and other indicators have been omitted from interviewees and pictures to protect their anonymity***

A Penn State freshman and pledge member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity chapter, Timothy Piazza, died as a result of alcohol induced injuries. His fraternity brothers and fellow students failed him when they waited hours to seek medical attention.

Timothy’s story, students acting irrationally and drinking irresponsibly, happens every night at local bars and house parties. Experts and officials say that injuries, death, assaults and sexual assaults are statistically more likely when alcohol is involved. How did it get to this point? Are young adults just too reckless to leave the nest? The truth us, as a society we are all partly responsible for these avoidable tragedies.

Public policy and university bylaws have created a binge drinking culture on campuses across the United States. The government implements an age restriction makes drinking seem like an elusive sign of adulthood, thus creating an irresistible allure.

 

Education

In high school, health classes teach students not to drink rather than how to do so sensibly. Schools choose to remain ignorant to the fact that teens and young adults experiment with alcohol. Rather than strictly instructing students not to drink, it would be more effective to teach them the signs of danger. For example, if Timothy’s fraternity brothers new the symptoms and dangers of alcohol poisoning maybe he would still be alive.

“I didn’t know how much a drink is until I went away for school,” said Nicole. She goes on to explain that no one ever taught her the proper measurements for beer, wine and liquor. As a result, she found herself drinking excessive amounts of liquor thinking it was “normal”

“I didn’t realize I was drinking five servings of vodka before I was even going to the bar. I wish I knew before,” she said.

 

Public Policy

Up until 1984, America had an inconsistent stance of the legal drinking age. At certain points, the age had been nonexistent. With the passage of the 18th and 21st amendments, drinking across the board was respectively banned and then reintroduced.

After a string of high profile drunk driving incidents, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) successfully lobbied lawmakers to enact the National Minimum Drinking Age Act. The bill required states to increase the drinking age to 21 or they would lose federal infrastructure funding. Essentially, this put states in a corner and they were understandably “forced” to comply.

The logic goes: less people drinking, less alcohol related deaths and crimes. It makes sense, until you realize that illegality does not necessarily deter people from partaking in the crime. Young people are a force to reckon with when we are determined. It turns out, alcohol is readily available and easy to purchase despite the law. This means that drinking has become essentially unregulated for those still considered to be minors. If something goes awry when people are underage and drinking, they are less likely to call the appropriate authorities out of fear of retribution. Students are genuinely concerned a run in with the law — at the university or in the “real world”— may cause more damage. The law is causing direct harm.

“There have been times when I’ve seen kids who should be getting their stomach pumped refusing to go because they’re here on scholarship,” says one student athlete who wishes to remain anonymous. “It’s scary.”

The Culture

In most parts of the world, the minimum drinking age is not 21. In Europe and some Canadian provinces, the age is predominantly 18. In Australia and other countries it is 19. Twenty-one seems like an arbitrary number. Previously, science held that the human brain is fully developed by this age. If this is true, then why do we consciously let undeveloped brains vote in elections, enlist in the military and stand trial as an adult? If the government’s policies were actually in line with each other, maybe people would be less likely to drink. At least, that is one student’s theory.

“My friend (19) joined the Marines last year. Everyday he runs the risk of death. If he can’t crack open a cold brew, I don’t know who can,” said Joe. Well said.

In Europe, despite the lower minimum age, the Telegraph reports that nearly one in six traffic related accidents involves alcohol. In the U.S. the CDC reports that one in three is alcohol related. So, here we see that the MADD logic is not accurate.

Culturally, here in America we glamorize alcohol as something that we should drink in excess and frequently in order to have fun. This is not the same mentality in European cultures. The French for example, sip it casually at dinner. Statistically, France has less alcohol-related hospitalizations per capita in comparison to the United States.

The Remedy

The only solution to the epidemic afflicting the nation and its young people is to lower the drinking age back to 18. By doing so, society would be more honest with itself and confront the fact that young adults will drink. Making it legal would entice students especially to seek help when needed. How many Timothy Piazzas do we need before we change policies and reduce the number of preventable deaths amongst college students?

 

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