Monday, July 2, 2012

Raise the Drinking Age—where is common sense?

Note: Written while not under the influence.

Surely, now it is time to raise the drinking age to twenty. In an ideal world, this would not be needed as kids would grow up with a responsible attitude to alcohol. But the thing is that they don’t. The TV is full of reports of out-of-control young people whose drunken behaviour is obvious. This is not new. It is a long-term kiwi issue going back to the “good old days” of rugby, racing and beer and seen in our on-going binge culture. I grew up with it—getting wasted was the norm then and now. My sister tragically died at age 23 from one such binge.
Sometimes one wonders where common sense has gone. The recently completed Herald DigiPoll shows that nearly 80% want the purchasing age raised to 20. 50% want the purchasing age in all licensed premises raised to 20. 25% believe it should remain at 18 in bars and restaurants. Personally, I am with the 50%; raise it to twenty in all situations. The Law Commission report in 1999 made this recommendation, stating that the reduction of the purchase age to 18 had increased youth drinking and alcohol-related hospitalisations and road crashes. Over a decade later, things aren’t getting any better.  So this is common sense isn’t it?

From a Christian point of view, with the Kiwi family and communities failing to raise young people who drink responsibly, the state which is God’s agent to maintain justice and peace, needs to step in big time (Rom 13). For me, it is irresponsible for the government, national and local, to sit back and not act decisively. What are they waiting for? One can imagine that the Government is under immense pressure from the powerful alcohol lobbyists, but it is time to get real. They should also be pushing for further alcohol education in schools, continuing advertising to warn of the risks, and especially hitting people in the wallets by raising the price of alcohol. It has worked with smoking; it will work with alcohol over time.

The church too needs to be much more proactive in speaking about alcohol. First, teaching young people of the consequences of alcohol and drugs. Church leaders need to be upfront with them, giving them a good theology of alcohol and drugs. Jesus drank in moderation even turning water into wine (John 2), but urged sobriety (Luke 21:34). Paul similarly had no problem with moderate drinking (Rom 13:13; 14:21; 1 Tim 3:8; 5:23; Tit 2:3; Rom 13:13), but rejected drunkenness (Gal 5:21; Eph 5:18). We need to teach abstinence or responsible drinking. Leaders need to model responsibility, and church should share testimonies of victory over the booze and drugs. Churches also need keep giving youth opportunities for good times without getting smashed. Where Christians have opportunity to speak into schools, we should take them sharing how young people can be responsible with their booze.

Secondly, we our ministries should include a real awareness of alcohol’s dangers and with help available. Our preaching, without harsh judgementalism and demand, should frequently refer to this subject. No doubt, many in our churches will be dependent on alcohol and drugs to varying degrees, with some alcoholics, and others affected in their everyday lives.  When there is an opportunity to speak on social vices, we must not neglect this. There will be many who need regular reminding about the dangers of alcohol, and many who need help—we need to be there for them, with professional counselling available. As part of this, we can set up and/or support the work of 12-step programs such as AA which help people find freedom from their addictions with the support of the ultimate higher power.

What do you think?


Anonymous said...

Hi Mark, Here in the UK you cannot allow under age kids to drink in the private, at home. While in France Kids over seven can drink with a meal and under seven with a doctors note. Although I am in the UK I am closer to France and its quite easy to pop over for a day trip. I have never seen street drunks or the animal behaviour that is commonplace on a Friday night in most towns in the UK or NZ. Education from a young age can do wonders in a culture. TJ

Ben Carswell said...

Good call Mark - I think the challenge is for ourselves as the church to respond appropriately, Biblically & sanely.

I think also the wider issue of drink-driving needs addressing in a Kiwi context. It has been staggering for us how acceptable it is here & I would have thought a tough stance is the way forward. Zero tolerance both from the public & the police is the only way this one will change.

Thanks for discussing & addressing such an important issue.

Nicholas Mayne said...

While I am a teetotaller myself, I reject the straight raising of the drinking age. Prohibition for youth alone will not deal with the problems associated with drinking; especially when even the adult population lacks the maturity to drink responsibly. Furthermore you have already identified that drinking itself is not sinful; but the excess of drinking lead to folly, which leads to sin.

I read once that in the Edwardian and Victorian era it was evangelical Christians who established and owned many breweries. They did so because they could see the evil effect Gin was having on the working class and they wanted to provide beer as a cheaper more responsible alternative. Of cause such market intervention would be country to the free market ideology of many so called evangelicals today; which probably highlights a great idolatry than the bottle. But what it also shows us is that our evangelical forefathers understood that Love is willing to make personal sacrifice in order to improve the welfare of others. So my question would be is regulation the most compassionate way of dealing with this folly. Or should we examine the society that promotes profit above people, continue in the steps of our forefathers, and seek reform so that adults have less emotional turmoil to escape and more time to spend and mentor our youth.

Anonymous said...

I think... Education is key. Alcohol is one of the most harmful drugs available, however most people teenagers included drink sensibly. We cannot tar everyone with the same brush over the minority who abuse alcohol. Prohibition rarely works nor do moral judgements. I agree with Professor Nutt his scientific analysis on levels of harm. His stats showed horse riding can cause more harm than cannabis use, extacy and other recreational substances were less harmful than public / govermnent perception and suggested alcohol become a class A drug. Perscription drugs freely dealt by GPs are far more addictive than alcohol or cannabis. Antidrpressant drugs and given out like lollies too. Teenagers today are way more informed on drugs and alcohol than their parents. Yet they are often easy targets for moral judgements. Street drugs should be legalized , this would take rhe power away from the gangs and other blackmarket activity. and education on all drugs should be science based and relevant.

Mark Keown said...

Agree on the education. Can't agree Nicholas. Is it consistent to want the government to intervene on green and social justice issues, but not on drinking? Using energy and spending are not illegal, but the government intervenes for social good and protection. This is one such occasion in my view. If not, what would it take? Compassion for whom? For the victims of the lude and violent behaviour that flows from drunkenness, or for the drinkers. By all means compassionate action, but there is a time for tough love.

Anonymous said...

Legalize cannibis, have yet to see any harmful behavior from a group of stoners. Infact they would rather be at home listening to chill step music and baking.

Mark Keown said...

Thanks Ben. Legalize cannabis. Yes, that will fix it. I was once a cannabis smoker and a drinker and I can testify the combination is lethal. Indeed, the results of the combination of various drugs and alcohol on Auckland streets proves the point. It will only make matters worse.

Unknown said...

Studies shows that alcohol (not just binge-drinking) has an adverse effect on brain development, so the legal drinking age should be more like 25.

Mark Keown said...

Sounds a great idea "Unknown"--I have a sneaking suspicion that won't get past the first reading, hick.

Anonymous said...

Of course cannibis and alcohol are a lethal mix. As I said legalize cannabis

Mark Keown said...

So what are you going to do with alcohol? Make it illegal? That would be required for that to work. Otherwise, it will just make it worse?

Anonymous said...

Yes legal use of all substances plus education plus parents / caregivers be responsible for their own children . It's not up to the State or the Church to dictate. Often the problem users are the minority anyway. Or the GP s dishing out 'legal' prescriptions that are way more addictive. Too many armchair critics.

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Ah libertarianism. I am sure that would fix it.

Christine said...

I was an alcoholic at age 14 and was convinced when I first showed up to AA at 24 that I would be the youngest there. Sadly I wasn't even close and most of the people there, even if older, had started drinking at parties when they were teenagers. Funny thing was that the AA meeting was held at a church that I attended and it took me a year after joining AA to argue them into having grape juice as an alternative to wine at communion!!

I agree that the age should be raised, it just makes sense that something is done! But my strongest feelings are around the church and how we approach the issue. Forcing alcoholics to either drink wine and expose themselves to their vice or not take part in communion is so awful it still makes me angry (especially when they would have gluten free options for the bread!). I think churches in general don't know how to approach the issue and so we stick to tradition at the risk of others. I loved that church and the people in it but they just didn't know how to respond to the very people they were trying to help. I see this a lot in Christian circles. We need to start being braver in stepping up and speaking out.

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