Thinking about drinking

Why not take a fresh look at why students binge drink?

Why do students binge drink? And what can be done about it? Those are questions raised recently in the media, thanks to the Amethyst Initiative, a movement signed by some 129 university presidents that calls for a re-examination of national policies toward alcohol, including the legal drinking age.

The premise behind the initiative is, as its Web site ( states, “that the 21-year-old drinking age is not working, and, specifically, that it has created a culture of dangerous binge drinking on … campuses.” It calls for an “informed and unimpeded debate” on the drinking age and calls upon elected officials “to weigh all the consequences of current alcohol policies and to invite new ideas on how best to prepare young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol use.”

We have no opinion on whether the drinking age should be changed, but we do note that it’s one of the least-honored laws in the country—any kid who wants to drink can easily do so—and for that reason alone it should be discussed and debated. Just as important, we Americans need to ask ourselves why so many of our children equate college with drinking. Perhaps there should be no age limit on drinking, as is the case in the Mediterranean countries, where children are introduced to wine (usually diluted) at an early age and binge drinking and public drunkenness are largely unknown.

In America, drinking is surrounded by mystique, equated with sexiness and independence and being “grown up.” For too many kids, especially college students away from home for the first time, drinking is a rite of passage from childhood into adulthood, but it’s one with the potential to be dangerous and even fatal, as we in Chico know all too well.

If the Amethyst Initiative prompts a discussion that goes beyond the issue of drinking age to examine comprehensively our society’s attitudes toward alcohol and drinking, it will have served a useful purpose.