Adults age 18, 19 and 20 should be able to drink alcoholic beverages if they have a drinking learners permit.
A Thought Experiment
If we prepared young people to drive the same way we ‘prepare’ them for drinking:
- We would tell them that driving a vehicle is dangerous. That tens of thousand of people die each year in traffic crashes.
- We would tell them that driving requires knowing the rules of the road.
- We would explain that we don’t teach them these rules. That’s because we don’t want to send them ‘mixed messages’ about their ability to drive.
- We would tell them that good driving requires guided practice. But we can’t provide that because they’re too young to drive.
- We would tell them that they lack the necessary 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 and not kill themselves or others.
Our streets and highways would be unimaginably dangerous. Yet we use the same approach in preparing young people to consume alcohol when they turn 21. And most will decide to drink before then.
Underage persons generally drink without parental guidance. They typically drink in an environment that promotes heavy drinking.
So what’s the solution? We should do with drinking what has proven successful with driving. That is, we should issue drinking learner permits to qualified adults age 18 through 20.
Exactly what constitutes qualified? That’s for society to determine. It might limit permits to those who have successfully completed a specified alcohol education responsibility 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
Drinking But aren’t those who begin drinking earlier more likely to have drinking and other problems later in life? This correlation result from pre-existing personality factors that have been identified. For example, psychologists have been able to study pre-schoolers and predict accurately which will begin drinking earlier and also to have drinking problems later.
We should reduce youthful alcohol abuse by issuing a drinking learners permit to qualified adults age 18 through 20.
Kiesbye, S. (ed.) Should the Legal Drinking Age be Lowered? Detroit: Greenhaven, 2008.
Marcovitz, H. Should the Drinking Age be Lowered? San Diego: ReferencePoint, 2011.
McCardell, J. Let Them Drink at 18, With a Learners Permit. New York Times, May 28, 2012.
McCarthy, C. Should We Have a Drinking Learners Permit for Alcohol, Too? Huffington Post, Sept 20, 2013.
U.S. Dept Health Human Serv. Report to Congress on the Prevention and Reduction of Underage Drinking. Washington: The Dept, 2015.