Adults age 18, 19 and 20 should be able to drink alcoholic beverages. If they have a drinking learners permit.
A Thought Experiment
Imagine if we prepared young people to drive the same way we “prepare” them for drinking. We would tell them this.
- Driving a vehicle is dangerous. That tens of thousand of people die each year in traffic crashes.
- It requires knowing the rules of the road.
- We don’t teach them these rules. That’s because we don’t want to send them “mixed messages” bout their ability to drive.
- Good driving requires guided practice. But we can’t provide that because they’re too young to drive.
- They lack the emotional maturity to drive safely. We would explain that they will acquire this maturity on their 21st birthday.
Then, on that magic day, we would hand them the keys to the car. We would remind them that using public transportation is much safer than driving their own vehicle. But if they insist on driving, we would ask them to be careful. Not kill themselves or others.
Our streets and highways would be highly dangerous. Yet we use the same approach in preparing young people to drink alcohol when they turn 21. And most will decide to drink before then.
Drinking Learners Permit
Underage persons generally drink without parental guidance. They typically drink in an environment that promotes heavy drinking.
Exactly what constitutes qualified? That’s for society to determine. It might limit permits to those who have successfully completed a specified alcohol education course, who have received a high school diploma, and who have not been found guilty of any alcohol laws.
Permits could be graduated, as with driving learner’s permits. Perhaps at first permit holders could only drink with a parent present. Then anywhere with a parent present. Then in a restaurant, with no parental supervision needed. And so on. Restrictions could be lifted incrementally with successful compliance with all permit conditions.
Alcohol and Young Brains
But doesn’t alcohol damage young brains? There’s no evidence that drinking in moderation damages developing brains. Nor is there any reason to suspect that it might. Otherwise, Italians, Jews, Greeks and many others would be showing the negative affects. The often-cited research uses only rats and alcohol abusers. It doesn’t study young people who consume in moderation.
Early Drinking Leads to Problems
But aren’t those who begin drinking earlier more likely to have drinking and other problems later in life? This link results from pre-existing personality factors. These have been identified. For example, psychologists have been able to study pre-schoolers. They then predict accurately who will begin drinking earlier. And also who will have drinking problems later.
We should reduce youthful alcohol abuse by issuing a drinking learners permit. It would be to qualified adults age 18 through 20.
- Getnick, J. The Drinking Age Debates. Ph.D. diss, SUNY Albany.
- Kiesbye, S. (ed.) Should the Legal Drinking Age be Lowered?
- Marcovitz, H. Should the Drinking Age be Lowered?
- McCardell, J. Let Them Drink at 18, With a Learners Permit. New York Times.
- McCarthy, C. Should We Have a Drinking Learners Permit for Alcohol, Too? Huff Post.