The issue of teenage drinking

Faced with evidence that underaged drinking is a recurring problem on college campuses and elsewhere, many voices have been raised across the United States in recent months arguing that the legal drinking age should be lowered from 21 to 18.

Often, two false but convincing arguments are presented in support of this desire. The first is that anyone who is 18 is old enough to vote or be inducted into the armed forces and, therefore, ought to be old enough to drink alcohol. The second is that young people naturally want to rebel against authority and would not be as enticed to abuse alcohol if they had a legal right to it.

The Lord foresaw this day when He gave Joseph Smith the Word of Wisdom and said, "In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you and forewarn you . . . ." (Doctrine and Covenants 89:4.)

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have a clear interest in this issue. Alcohol and illegal drugs are powerful spiritual inhibitors. The teenage years can be times of great spiritual discovery; times when many people begin asking serious questions about life and seeking answers. No wonder Satan desires to shut off the ability to feel and respond to the Spirit as early as possible.

In addition, there are serious health issues at stake. Research has shown that the earlier in life one begins drinking, the greater the chances are of developing alcoholism or other alcohol-related diseases.

In most countries, laws are designed to recognize when an average person has reached a level of maturity sufficient to accept new privileges responsibly. In the United States, for example, most states grant the right to drive at age 16. The Constitution was amended several years ago to grant the right to vote at age 18.

But these privileges and rights exist separately. One could not reasonably argue that because a 16-year-old is entrusted with driving a car, he or she ought to be considered mature enough to vote. Likewise, it makes little sense to equate the right to vote, or to serve in the armed forces, with the right to consume alcohol.

It makes great sense, however, to keep teenagers as far away from alcohol as possible, and laws do help. According to the Associated Press, in the years after every state raised the legal drinking age to 21, teen drinking declined by 13 percent. Traffic deaths among people aged 15-20 fell by nearly a half.

As to the second argument, it follows the age-old, tried-and-true pattern Satan uses to convince people that everyone is committing sin; therefore, it is hopeless to fight against the tide. The truth is considerably different. Most youth will adhere to sound principles if they are taught well and often by loving parents and other guides.

Two years ago, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University published a study that equated the number of meals parents and children have together with rates of drug, alcohol and tobacco use. This rather simple measure showed that the more often a family ate together, the less the children abused harmful substances. Naturally, parents use meal times as opportunities to teach and discuss important issues.

The Partnership for a Drug Free America made similar findings. It discovered that teens who receive strong anti-drug messages at home are 42 percent less likely to use drugs than those whose parents ignored the issue.

Clearly, Satan doesn't want you to hear this information. Neither do the beer and alcohol industries, which have begun advertising to college students that they can drink "responsibly." They argue that any attempts to teach abstinence would be in vain.

President Spencer W. Kimball said it well when he wrote: "Drinking . . . brings deprivation and sorrow to numerous innocent ones. It is associated with graft, immorality, gambling, fraud, gangsterism, and most other vices. In its wake come wasted money, deprived families, deteriorated bodies, reduced minds, numerous accidents. It has everything against it, nothing for it, yet states sell it and receive revenue from it, and it has become an accepted 'normal' part of modern life." (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 55.)

The Word of Wisdom is powerful evidence of the love Heavenly Father has for His children. Members of the Church should support laws that help people stay away from the harmful substances it warns against so that they may be more receptive to the gospel message.

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