There is considerable evidence that heavy episodic drinking (HED) is a serious problem among college students. Concern with this problem has led 135 college presidents to endorse the Amethyst Initiative, which promotes the lowering of the minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) from 21 to 18. The Amethyst Initiative claims that the current MLDA of 21 encourages underage college students to drink in unsupervised locations where they adopt misconceptions regarding the normative level of student drinking that leads to excessive consumption or HED. The study by Fitzpatrick and colleagues (2012) in this issue challenges this hypothesis by contrasting the potential reduction in misapprehension of the drinking norm against the increase in consumption that would be expected if the MLDA was lowered to 18.
This commentary places the Fitzpatrick study within the larger context of the MLDA, noting that full consideration of the lowering the MLDA requires the inclusion of 18- to 20-year-old noncollege youths in the work force and 15- to 17-year-old high school students who will have increased access to alcohol through their 18-year-old peers.
Research suggests that alcohol consumption and its associated problems will increase for 15- to 20-year-olds if the MLDA was lowered. This commentary also identifies alternative strategies for reducing college student HED that do not require lowering the MLDA.
Although college binge drinking is a significant problem, reducing the drinking age is unlikely to be effective. Instead, it will increase the risk of alcohol problems faced by even younger high school students.
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