One, Two…Many: Why The Minimum
Legal Drinking Age in the U.S Should Remain 21
When watching a movie about high school and college students they’re not just shown studying in the library for hours or being involved in campus activities. The focus is usually on partying, doing drugs, and drinking alcohol. Usually what follows is the embarrassing or dangerous repercussions of these activities. Well it’s not just made up for the big screens – it’s our society’s reality. Underage drinking has become a large part of the American college experience and culture, so much that it can even be considered a social norm. Students sit through countless presentations telling them about how bad and dangerous it is to drink underage, learn about the possible consequences, get warned by their parents their entire lives, and hear the details of the grim stories of mothers and fathers who have lost their child to underage drinking-related incidents. So why is it that after all of this, they still choose to go out and do exactly what they’re told not to do, throwing caution to the wind? They risk getting in trouble with the law and their loved ones, but most importantly they risk others’ lives and their own. In the U.S, the minimum legal drinking age has not always been 21 across all our nation. There was a time in our history when it was 18, up until the U.S passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act in 1984 that required states to either change their minimum legal drinking age to 21 or face the consequences of not receiving federal highway funding (McCartt et. al). In recent years there has been a major spike in concern for the dangers of underage drinking and its impact on young lives. There is also major controversy regarding the minimum legal drinking age, some arguing that lowering the age back to 18 would decrease the current alcohol use behavior and tendencies of the youth and therefore save more lives while others argue that it would only further increase the dangers. So would lowering the legal drinking age to 18 decrease or increase the number of alcohol-related fatalities of those 21 and under in the U.S? I believe that lowering the current legal drinking age of 21 to 18 in the U.S would increase the number of alcohol-related fatalities of those 21 and under due to making alcohol more easily accessible to a greater portion of the youth population and therefore inadvertently would cause more accidents that lead to fatalities, as well as not being in agreement nor persuaded that the lowering of the legal age would decrease binge drinking or change current drinking tendencies and behavior that would cause students to choose to learn to drink more responsibly in today’s American society.
A major claim of those who believe it would be safer for America’s youth if we lowered the minimum legal drinking
age to 18 is that when we look to other countries where their legal drinking age is much lower, their drinking and fatalities rates are much lower than ours as well. Through my research I did not find this claim to be completely true. It is true that behavior and social norms of drinking differ from the U.S in countries with lower legal drinking ages, such as in European countries where at a young age “parents serve small amounts of wine to their children at family meals” (Griggs). At Canadian universities, students can “go down to the bars and drink or go to the clubs or have beer delivered to their dorm rooms and students and faculty and other adults intermingle around alcohol” (Daniloff). Some believe that this open culture allows adults to “demonstrate moderate drinking and allows young people to learn to drink from people who’ve had experience with it” (Daniloff). Although the culture and attitude towards drinking is different, it does not necessarily mean that the U.S drinks more than countries with lower legal drinking ages and have less alcohol-related fatalities among youth. The chart to the right shows which countries have the heaviest drinkers when calculating only drinkers as well as when calculating all adults including abstainers. This data defined an adult as anyone aged 15 or older. The chart shows that the U.S is not even close to the top ranked of the heaviest drinkers, whether including abstainers or not. In fact, all the countries with the top heaviest drinkers, calculated by liters of alcohol consumption per adult, all have a minimum legal drinking age of 18-19 or no legal age at all (“MLDA”). Although, these countries seem to have a very high percentage of abstainers, which highlights the differing attitudes towards drinking from country to country. Countries such as Britain, Canada, and France which are often used in comparison to the U.S in claims such as these and all have legal drinking age of 18 are seen to be relatively close in heaviness of drinking and shown in the chart in fact is that the U.S ranks below all these countries in heaviness of drinking when taking into consideration all adults. This data involves those age 15 and older which includes what we consider underage drinkers in America. What can be concluded from these findings that our legal drinking age is effective in lowering the amount people drink. The European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs even found that “the vast majority of the 35 participating countries have greater portions of high school-aged youths who report heavy alcohol use and drinking to intoxication than does the United States” (Grube). Also to counteract this claim, New Zealand lowered its legal alcohol purchase age from 20 to 18 in 1999 and what was found was that “this policy led to modest increases in drinking among youth ages 18-19 but more sizeable increases among those ages 16-17” (Dejong et al.). Also, “studies showed that there were significantly more alcohol-related crashes among 15-19 year olds than would have occurred had the law not been changed and showed greater numbers of emergency room admissions for severe intoxication” (Dejong et al.). This data shows examples of negative effects of a lower legal drinking age on society and disproves claims that we drink more than other countries as well as exhibit worse drinking habits. A recent study was done on the change of Canadian drinking laws and its effects on the amount of alcohol-related collisions as a result of the law changes. They found that the lowering of the legal age “appeared to be associated with the immediate increase in alcohol-related fatal and non-fatal motor vehicle collisions” (Callaghan et al.). In conclusion of the study, the researchers even suggested that Canada’s minimum legal drinking age should be increased to reduce such accidents.
The chart to the right shows the number of deaths of a driver under the influence from 2005-2004 by U.S state. The states with the greatest amount of alcohol-impaired driving deaths are also the largest populous states in our country. This chart shows that we already lose thousands of lives to driving under the influence and we should not risk increasing these numbers like Canada did when they lowered their legal drinking age. Lowering the drinking age would potentially put more drivers under the influence on the road. Looking into the data and seeing the effects of lowering the legal drinking age in other ntions, it is clear that the repercussions are only found to be more dangerous for our youth and we should not repeat other countries’ mistakes, but rather learn from them. Lowering the minimum legal drinking age in the U.S would only increase access to alcohol purchase to a greater number of students and potentially put more lives at risk to themselves by over-drinking and risk others’ lives on the road by drinking and driving. Not to mention that a majority of students turn eighteen while still in high school which could in turn make alcohol even more easily accessible to younger high school students.
Supporters of lowering the minimum legal drinking age believe that our minimum legal drinking age creates a cultural attitude problem that makes “teenagers sneak off to basements and backwoods to binge drink far from adult supervision” and that alcohol is “no big deal in other countries but by contrast where it’s banned until age 21, there’s something of the ‘forbidden fruit’ syndrome” (Griggs). What this claim is trying to say is that the reason there is such a big binge drinking problem among our youth is that there is something thrilling about doing something you’re not supposed to. In our country, it’s like a big glowing red button that says ‘Do Not Touch’. What is also being stated is that the inability for students to drink when they are in public causes them to drink as much as possible, binge drink, while they’re still in private. Back when the minimum legal drinking age was 18 “there was no need for “pre-gaming” – binge drinking in private apartments or dorms before heading out in public” (Cary). People believe binge drinking would not be as much as a problem if students were able to go out and know that they could continue to drink, therefore allowing them to drink at a steady pace to whatever event they go to. The chart to the left shows the percentage of those age 12-20 who have binge drank in the past month per U.S state, defining binge drinking as having 5 or more drinks on the same occasion. The average percentage among the states is around 15% of their 12-20 year olds which is crazy considering they shouldn’t be drinking at all since they are underage, much less binge drinking. The chart does not seem to show a clear reason as to why some states may be slightly higher than others but it highlights that binge drinking is a problem across our entire nation and not just certain parts.
Supporters of a lower drinking age also claim that the currently instated law robs the parent’s ability to educate their kids about alcohol usage at a young age because they believe that “the younger people start to drink the safer they are” (Griggs). They think that allowing people to drink at a younger age deglamorizes the act of drinking, making it seem like less of a big deal, as well as watching adults drink modestly would show them how to drink responsibility and learn their limits. Bottom line – they believe that the current minimum legal drinking age is the issue that caused our society’s youth’s current cultural attitude towards drinking and bad drinking tendencies and that if it was legal for them to drink they’d choose to drink more responsibly. This isn’t found to be true through research conducted that compared drinking beliefs and behaviors of college students legal to drink versus underage. The study found that “while college students both above and below the 21-year-old MLDA have similar beliefs regarding what constitutes responsible drinking, students below the current MLDA have less intention to drink responsibly regardless of their behavioral beliefs and/or motives” (Barry et al.). Their study proves that just because students know better, does not mean that they will do better. At least with the current minimum legal drinking age there is some sort of feeling of caution among most that they will get in trouble for breaking the law and therefore be responsible and not drink. Making it legal for more college students to drink will not make them intend to drink more responsibly – just give more opportunity to not drink responsibly. The laws currently instilled involving possession and purchase of alcohol have proven to decrease the number of fatalities of those under 21 in motor vehicle crashes in the United States. Research has shown that “the possession and purchase laws account for an 11.2% reduction” in such fatalities of our youth (Fell et al.).
“You never really hear, ‘Oh drinking affected my life positively.'”
“The dangers are… BLACKOUTS
The United States has a huge underage drinking issue among college and high school students that has led to the death of too many young lives and we must take steps to further stop this problem, but lowering the current minimum legal drinking age would not be taking the right steps forward. These laws are instilled in order to protect our youth and are not the cause of our issue of binge drinking or our flawed cultural attitude towards drinking. We must educate and encourage safe responsible drinking behavior and be the change before you or a friend become another statistic after having one, two…many.
Barry, Adam E., Michael L. Stellefson, and Conrad L. Woolsey. “A Comparison of the Responsible Drinking Dimensions Among Underage and Legal Drinkers: Examining Differences in Beliefs, Motives, Self-Efficacy, Barriers and Intentions.” Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention & Policy 9. (2014): 2-10. Academic Search Complete. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.
Callaghan, Russell C., et al. “Release from Drinking-Age Restrictions Is Associated with Increases in Alcohol-Related Motor Vehicle Collisions Among Young Drivers in Canada.” Preventive Medicine 91. (2016): 356-363. Academic Search Complete. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.
Cary, Mary Kate. “Time to Lower the Drinking Age.” U.S News. U.S News & World Report, 7 May 2014. Web. 20 Sept. 2016.
Daniloff, Caleb. “Drinking: 18 vs. 21.” BU Today. Boston University, 21 Oct. 2010. Web. 19 Sept. 2016.
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DeSilver, Drew. “Chart of the Week: Who Really Drinks the Most?” Pew Research Center. Pew Research Center, 16 May 2014. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.
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Griggs, Brandon. “Should the U.S. Lower Its Drinking Age?” CNN. Cable News Network, 4 Jan. 2015. Web. 20 Sept. 2016.
Grube, Joel. Youth Drinking Rates and Problems: A Comparison of European Countries and the United States. Rockville, MD: Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, 2005. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.
McCartt, Anne T., Laurie A. Hellinga, and Bevan B. Kirley. “The Effects of Minimum Legal Drinking Age 21 Laws On Alcohol-Related Driving in The United States.” Journal of Safety Research 41.2 (2010): 173-181. Academic Search Complete. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.
“MLDA in 190 Countries.” ProCon. ProCon, 10 Mar. 2016. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.
Wechsler, Henry, and Toben F. Nelson. “Will Increasing Alcohol Availability by Lowering the Minimum Legal Drinking Age Decrease Drinking and Related Consequences Among Youths?” American Journal of Public Health 100.6 (2010): 986-992. Academic Search Complete. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.