Drink­ing age at 18 will hurt women

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. -

This sum­mer, more than 100 col­lege and uni­ver­sity pres­i­dents and chan­cel­lors called for a pub­lic dis­cus­sion about the le­gal drink­ing age. “Twenty-one is not work­ing,” say the 130 aca­demic leaders who have signed a state­ment with the Amethyst Ini­tia­tive (www.amethys­tini­tia­tive.org), an ad­vo­cacy group formed to kick off the drink­ing-age de­bate.

For­bid­ding al­co­hol to peo­ple un­der age 21 has led to “a cul­ture of danger­ous, clan­des­tine ‘bingedrink­ing’ — of­ten con­ducted of­f­cam­pus,” the group says.

This “ab­sti­nence” pol­icy de­nies the ma­tu­rity of young adults, who at 18, can vote, sign con­tracts, serve on ju­ries and en­list in the Army, they add. It also en­cour­ages use of fake iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, which erodes stu­dents’ re­spect for the law.

In 2009, when Congress takes up its trans­porta­tion bill, it could change the 1984 Na­tional Min­i­mum Drink­ing Age Act, they say. Fed­eral law cur­rently re­duces a state’s fed­eral high­way fund­ing by 10 per­cent if it doesn’t set 21 as the le­gal drink­ing age.

It’s time for an “in­formed and dis­pas­sion­ate pub­lic de­bate” about that 10 per­cent de­fund­ing law and the ef­fects of the 21-yearold drink­ing age, Amethyst Ini­tia­tive leaders say.

Plenty has been writ­ten about this is­sue, es­pe­cially the re­duc­tion in traf­fic deaths due to the age limit.

My sense is that low­er­ing the drink­ing age would have zero ben­e­fit for young women, but greatly in­crease their risks for prob­lems. Women are not only the fairer sex, they are the cud­dlier sex — and those lay­ers of body fat af­fect the way they han­dle al­co­hol.

Al­co­hol dis­solves slower in fat than in wa­ter, ac­cord­ing to “Women Un­der the In­flu­ence,” a 2006 book from the Cen­ter on Ad­dic­tion and Sub­stance Abuse

CH­ERYL WETZSTEIN

at Columbia Uni­ver­sity (www.casacolumbia.org).

Since women’s bodies have more fatty tis­sue and less wa­ter com­pared with men of sim­i­lar sizes, women me­tab­o­lize al­co­hol slower than men and “main­tain higher con­cen­tra­tions of al­co­hol in their blood.”

“As a re­sult, women get in­tox­i­cated faster and ex­pe­ri­ence worse hang­overs even when drink­ing the same amount as men,” the CASA book says. “In fact, one drink for a woman tends to have the same im­pact as two drinks for a man.”

So are you say­ing a col­lege coed can’t han­dle a drink­ing game as well as the frat guy over there?

“I would say that equal­ity is im­por­tant, but in the face of in­for­ma­tion, one has to tem­per one’s at­ti­tude — you have to take into ac­count what the facts are,” says Su­san Foster, a CASA ex­ec­u­tive who stud­ies the ef­fects of sub­stance abuse on women.

“Even if you think you may be han­dling an equal con­sump­tion to a young man your age, you don’t know what the ef­fects are on you,” she says. “We know that you could get ad­dicted faster than the guys. And the health con­se­quences, which may not be ap­pear­ing to you now, are likely to come on faster.”

Ac­cord­ing to “Women Un­der the In­flu­ence,” re­search sug­gests that drink­ing al­co­hol puts young women at greater risk for risky sex, teen preg­nancy, sex­ual dis­ease, poor aca­demic per­for­mance, in­fer­til­ity, mis­car­riage, sui­cide, ac­ci­dents, rape and sex­ual vi­o­lence, do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, brain im­pair­ment (e.g., the abil­ity to learn, re­mem­ber and think ab­stractly), liver dis­ease, heart dis­ease, breast can­cer, and to­bacco use.

Fe­male drinkers are more likely than male drinkers to abuse drugs and have men­tal health prob­lems such as de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety dis­or­ders and eat­ing dis­or­ders.

Quite a sober­ing list, don’t you think?

The Amethyst Ini­tia­tive says if the drink­ing age were changed (i.e., low­ered), states could safe­guard young peo­ple by set­ting dif­fer­ent rules for on-premise and off-premise al­co­hol pur­chases, or al­low stu­dents to buy only lower-al­co­hol bev­er­ages. An­other idea — my fa­vorite — would be to is­sue stu­dents an “al­co­hol li­cense” af­ter they take a cam­pus al­co­hol ed­u­ca­tion class.

I have a few thoughts about that stu­dent al­co­hol li­cense:

Re­quire a min­i­mum grade point av­er­age. Any GPA be­low 3.0 and it’s Hi-C for you.

Re­quire a no-ticket driv­ing record. Had a fender-bender last sum­mer? Come back in 12 months.

Re­quire a min­i­mum Body Mass In­dex. It takes a big man (and a big­ger woman) to not act stupid af­ter two al­co­holic drinks. BMIs 24 and be­low need not ap­ply.

Re­quire an in-per­son in­ter­view with the col­lege or uni­ver­sity pres­i­dent, who per­son­ally ad­min­is­ters the al­co­hol ed­u­ca­tion and signs the li­cense. Cel­e­bra­tory toast in the dean’s of­fice is op­tional.

Ch­eryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwet­zstein@wash­ing­ton­times.com.

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