Muhlenberg College President Joins Amethyst Initiative to Reduce Underage Alcohol Abuse

The Amethyst Initiative is a group of college and university presidents across the United States who believe that "the problem of irresponsible drinking by young people continues despite the minimum legal drinking age of 21, and there is a culture of dangerous binge drinking on many campuses."

Amethyst Initiative presidents promote public discussion about the unintended consequences of current alcohol policies, including the minimum legal drinking age of 21, and invites new ideas on how best to prepare young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol use. For more information, visit Amethyst Initiative and Choose Responsibility

There are a number of possible policy changes that might be discussed. They include such things as possibly:

  • issuing drinking learner permits to adults aged 18 or older, similar to driving learner permits;
  • permitting adults serving in the armed forces to consume alcoholic beverages under certain conditions;
  • permitting states to develop their own programs to reduce alcohol abuse without penalizing them for doing so by withholding highway funding;
  • lowering the drinking age to 18, 19 or 20;
  • some combination of the above;
  • considering ideas not yet proposed.

There is much resistance to even discussing possible options for a variety of reasons. Many organizations and professionals have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Some simply don't believe any change is needed. Some believe the questionable theory that drinking in moderation harms developing brains, a notion disproven by the experience of Jews, Italians, Greeks, Portuguese, French, and others around the world. Some doubt the maturity of young adults. Some don't think we can improve what we're already doing. A surprisingly large number favor the de facto prohibition of alcohol as a way to prevent alcohol-related problems. And the list goes on.

Therefore, it's a brave person who publicly calls for discussions about how we might reduce alcohol abuse among young people. However, a large number of the presidents of some of our leading colleges and universities have courageously taken such a stand by signing the Amethyst Initiative to do exactly that.

President Peyton R. Helm of Muhlenberg College has joined the Amethyst Iniative. When asked what's wrong with the legal drinking age of 21, Dr.
Helm explains that "Twenty-one is inconsistent with the prevailing definition of adulthood (18), and is already widely ignored by young people. Current law drives young people to drink secretly and dangerously. Strict enforcement simply drives the behavior further underground, where it becomes even more risky." He also points out that "18-year-olds are allowed to vote, join the military, buy property and assume other roles of adulthood, so they should be allowed to consume alcohol."

To the argument that lowering the legal drinking age might simply shift the problem down to the high school level, President Helm points out that most high school students are already drinking and that most also live at home where values can be taught and behavior monitored. However, colleges can't teach responsible drinking "when freshmen arrive as experienced drinkers and the only option is zero tolerance."

To the argument that raising the drinking age would lead to an increase in alcohol-related traffic accidents, the college leader observes that "Drunk driving is a serious problem, but drivers under 21 are not the key to the solution. National Highway Safety Traffic Administration statistics show the highest rates of drunk driving in fatal crashes are recorded for drivers 21-to-34 years old (34 percent), followed by ages 35-to-44 years old (27 percent). Alcohol involvement in fatal crashes for 16-to-20 year olds is about the same percentage as for 45-to-54 year olds." Dr. Helm asks "Shouldn't we focus on the problem itself: keeping drunk drivers off the road, whatever their age?"


  • Genevieve Marshall, Reducing the minimum drinking age, The Morning Call, August 31, 2008.

Filed Under: College