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How old is enough?

Reading, writing ... and binging?
by: JIM CLARK, Some college presidents are suggesting lowering the drinking age to help control binge drinking on campuses.

Is 18 the new 21 when it comes to drinking alcohol?

Apparently not in the Portland area, based on public reaction to a group of 100 university and college presidents - including three from Oregon - who made a splash last month when they called for an 'informed and dispassionate public debate' about the drinking age.

The group's statement, titled the 'Amethyst Initiative,' says the current 21-year-old drinking limit is not working and encourages 'a culture of dangerous, clandestine 'binge-drinking.''

One of the signers is Thomas J. Hochstettler of Lewis and Clark College. Another is is Phil Creighton, president of Pacific University in Forest Grove.

Hochstettler's office issued a release Thursday that said: 'President Hochstettler signed his name to the Amethyst Initiative statement to challenge the assumption that by setting the drinking age at 21, we as a nation have done all that we can to solve the issue of alcohol abuse among adolescents and young adults.

'The president opposes lowering the legal drinking age in the state of Oregon. He supports the Amethyst Initiative because it focuses national attention on a major epidemiological problem in this country, the irresponsible and destructive use of alcohol by young people.


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'It is the president's hope that this initiative can serve as a catalyst for elected officials and the public at large to examine existing alcohol policies and to invite new ideas on how best to prepare young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol use.'

For his part, Creighton says that in his travels, he's noticed a big difference in drinking habits among youth.

'In some ways, this is a cultural issue,' says Creighton.

'In some European countries, such as Germany, beer or wine is available, in moderation, to people at a fairly young age,' adds Creighton. 'When you allow drinking in moderation, then the 'forbidden fruit' aspect of drinking at college is lifted.'

Here are some thoughts from several Lake Oswego parents:

• Doug Stein, Lake Oswego parent

Do you think that dropping the drinking age to 18 would be mostly beneficial or mostly harmful to young people?

Mostly beneficial IF we socialize responsible drinking; mostly harmful if it becomes a private teen-only thing.

There is a logical inconsistency in students having legal rights in all areas (contract formation, marriage, military service, voting, etc. - even smoking!) except this one (drinking).

I went to college (late 70s) when the drinking age was rising back from 18. I have to confess I drank (occasionally) when I was a freshman in college (16 and 17). I'm one of the lucky ones who didn't get addicted and didn't have alcohol be a big part of my life.

Is there any circumstance where you believe underage drinking is appropriate?

In socialized family gatherings such as weddings.

The laws allow for controlled use of alcohol when parents serve to their children (and only their own children) in their own home. I did not know this until my son was off to college (where kids first experiment without supervision or permission).

Perhaps education to teach parents how to teach their children and take the mystique out of it would lead to a healthy respect. I don't know - since some parents are already addicted and wouldn't be good role models.

There are some cultures where drinking begins (responsibly) in the home. It is socialized and the youth culture doesn't see much rebellion in getting 'blitzed' regularly. It would be interesting to see what's different there.

Was there alcohol in your home while your kids were growing up?

Rare - one or two six packs of cider per year; one or two bottles of wine per year; no hard liquor.

What have you told your children about drinking?

There's nothing intrinsically wrong with alcohol, but it's dangerous. It has the potential to control you - either through the bad luck of genetics or the bad habits of overindulgence. If you want to be your own boss, don't make alcohol your master.

(The real problem is helping your kids develop self-control so they remain in charge.)

What would be your fear if the drinking age were lowered?

It would move into the high-school and preteen populations. The alcohol industries would mount a full-on challenge to hook 18-21 year olds on their product.

• Cary Strauch, Lake Oswego parent

Do you think that dropping the drinking age to 18 would be mostly beneficial or mostly harmful to young people?

I have not read in depth the reasons the area college presidents want to lower the drinking age.

I don't see the positive effects of changing the legal drinking age to 18. If we lowered the legal drinking age to 18, then we would see more teens in bars. I know many teens get fake IDs so that they can get into bars, but making it legal to drink at bars would lead to more drinking and driving. I know teens already attend parties where alcohol is served and then drive, but we are adding to the mix. I think college students will still drink heavily and continue with their drinking 'games' even if the legal drinking age changes.

Is there any circumstance where you believe underage drinking is appropriate?

Our culture links drinking to having fun. Europeons do not make such a big deal about having a glass of wine or beer. They incorporate it into their mealtime and therefore they do not have the problems we do as it is just an accepted way of enhancing the meal in a family setting.

My family history includes my parents allowing us to sample red wine with dinner when I was in high school. I couldn't stand the taste and so chose not to partake. I believe this circumstance is OK because it accompanied food and was done during family time. My parents had cocktails before dinner.

What have you told your children about drinking?

We spoke to our kids about drinking and they chose not to drink in high school.

What would be your fear if the drinking age were lowered?

My fear about lowering the drinking age is that we're compounding the problem we already have. The message is that drinking alcohol means fun. The reality is that drinking alcohol can lead to over-drinking and many problems.

• Mady Toombs, Lake Oswego parent

Do you think that dropping the drinking age to 18 would be mostly beneficial or mostly harmful to young people?

Absolutely no one should be legally drinking before the age of 20. Studies show that total maturation is around 25 when the frontal lobe (especially for boys) has fully developed.

Drinking age was 18 in the 70s and 80s for many states in the Midwest, but it's scary to look back and remember that. They have all changed that law since increased accidents and DUIs.

They need to be mature enough to make their choice on how they feel.

We were not nor are our kids mature enough to understand the ramifications. So, clearly 18 is not an appropriate age.

Is there any circumstance where you believe underage drinking is appropriate?

Probably not good a good idea to let kids try a drink before the age of 21, as well.

What have you told your children about drinking?

Consistency is a strong message in terms of not being ready to drink until the legal age. Our kids understand and have been told that until they are fully mature they should not be drinking. Therefore we should stay clear and stand strong on the under 21 issue.

Getting MADD

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), a national organization that works to combat alcohol abuse, has an answer to the question of whether the drinking age should change: a resounding NO.

A MADD statement, issued in response to the Amethyst Initiative, cited studies by the Institute for Highway Safety, the American Medical Association and the National Transportation Safety Board, all of which found reduced traffic fatalities and other health benefits from raising the drinking age to 21.

According to the Oregon Department of Human Services, about 50 percent of area 11th graders have consumed alcohol on more then one occasion, and about one-third have participated in binge drinking, which is classified has having five or more drinks within two hours.

According to a report issued by the Cascade Policy Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan Oregon think-tank, between 17 and 20 percent of all alcohol sold in Oregon is purchased by minors.

Jeff Alan, the chief investigator at the Cascade Policy Institute, in a commentary on the recent drinking age debate wrote: 'Many people equate alcohol use with violence, especially in youth. Interestingly, in France, where wine is a staple at the family dinner table, the mortality rate from homicides among youth (10-29 years of age) is only 1 in 100,000.'

Several members of the Pamplin Media Group, including Rebecca Mayer of the Lake Oswego Review, worked on this package of news stories about the issue of alcohol and youth.