Should the Legal Age for Drinking Be Lowered?
Every year on that special day when a teenager finally turns another year older, he or she can’t help but imagine how it will feel during that next year. Sweet sixteen, bittersweet seventeen, and finally the big eighteen! As a legal adult, privileges include buying a lottery ticket, voting, smoking, and joining the army, but not drinking. To an eighteen-year-old, this may be the most frustrating thing that can happen at this point in life. However, an eighteen-year-old doesn’t realize the risk of drinking at such an early age. The drinking age should not be lowered from twenty-one to eighteen because of the potentially severe outcomes due to drinking and driving, binge drinking, and long-term effects on an undeveloped brain.
There are various reasons that support decisions on keeping the drinking age at twenty-one. Keeping the legal drinking age at twenty-one has cut the mortality rate in traffic accidents by 13 percent (“Facts: Underage Drinking”). This means from 1975 to 2002, the law has saved approximately 21,887 lives (“Facts: Underage Drinking”). While on the same topic of death, binge drinking is also a major issue on and off college campuses across the United States. Underage drinking by students can also lead to academic failure, rape, and the passing of STDs. Lastly, because eighteen year olds are not fully mentally and physically developed, peer pressure and/or new circumstances can cause teens to make bad decisions when it comes to drugs, sex, violence, and other social situations. Citizens from all over the country have been battling this issue for many years. There are many different views on this issue, each side giving very valid points.
There have been many conflicting laws regarding underage drinking. On December 5, 1933, the Twenty-First Amendment allowed each state throughout our country to set their own separate alcohol drinking laws. At this time, many states then agreed for their drinking laws to be set at age twenty-one, with the exception of Illinois and Oklahoma, which set their laws for women at eighteen and men at twenty-one. It was then ruled by the courts that this was unquestionably a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, and on July 1, 1971, the Twenty-Sixth Amendment was passed. This Amendment lowered the voting age from twenty-one to eighteen, which caused thirty states to lower their drinking age as well. In 1982, a shocking fourteen states still had a minimum drinking age of twenty-one. Statistics on teen car accidents began to rise predominantly in states where the drinking age was lowered; therefore congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984. This law did not force individual states to set their laws to twenty-one, but specified that any states without the twenty-one or over drinking law would not receive federal transportation funds. By 1988, all fifty states in the United States had the minimum drinking law of twenty-one. This drinking law is generally in effect across the United States, yet forty states have set exclusions to the law. For example, underage drinking is allowed in selective states for religious commitments, educational purposes, and even if done on private property with parental consent. The drinking law has been disputed for many years now and for many different reasons. Forty seven out of fifty states in the United States have set their “majority age law” to eighteen, which raises inconsistencies between the laws governing the drinking age law and the age of majority. The law of majority says that all citizens of this age will have rights and responsibilities of an adult. Anyone of this age has the right to vote, serve jury duty, marry, and join the military among other responsibilities. Many people across the United States find this discrepancy unreasonable and biased. Law makers did not just pick the age twenty-one law out of the sky; there is much thought and scientific research behind this law.
Driving while under the influence has become a major epidemic in our society today, and statistics on teenage drunk driving are very frightening. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, around 5,000 people under the age of twenty-one die every year as a result of underage drinking. An overwhelming 2,000 of those deaths reported are from auto accidents (“ Drunk Driving Statistics”). Alcohol use while driving is a severe and even sometimes deadly problem. Lawmakers take into account that minors are already at risk when driving due to the lack of experience, and when alcohol is added into the equation, things can get a bit scary. Fortunately, California has a zero-tolerance law. The legal maximum blood alcohol level for drivers under twenty-one is 0.01 percent. A teen who is convicted of a drug or alcohol associated wrongdoing will undergo at least one year license suspension, even if driving was not involved in the infraction. Law enforcement agencies in society have made a big effort toward this epidemic in hopes of reducing teenage drunk driving. Sobriety checkpoints, curfew laws, and alcohol awareness programs such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), are ways that society promotes the dangers of this hazardous issue. Promoting positive role models and relentless awareness are the two main influential tools we as a society can use to help teens from drinking and driving.
Binge drinking has also become a major problem on and off college campuses across the United States. As parents send their teenagers off to college, in hopes of a good education and new learning experiences for their children, most are not aware of the dangers their young adults may face as they move into their dorms and establish a new sense of independence. Will they make good decisions about drugs and alcohol use? Will peer pressure get the best of them? Binge drinking is defined as five or more drinks in a row for men and four or more drinks in a row for women during a two week period (Wechsler). This has become a great pastime for college students nationwide and a major concern on many campuses. According to Columbia University in New York, “binge drinking and abusing drugs have only gotten worse over the past decade” (Cohen). It has been reported that around half of full time college students engage in binge drinking abuse and use of illegal prescription drugs (“Wechsler”). Alcohol consumption at an early age can also be a gateway to more dangerous drugs such as cocaine and heroin. Prescription drugs such as Vicodin and Oxycontin, which are highly addictive, have become popular on college campuses as well. The consequences for this dangerous behavior can result in poor grades, absence, dropped classes, social and mental issues, and even death. Students often don’t realize the magnitude of their actions until it is too late.
It is a proven fact that when consuming alcohol a person’s thoughts and feelings are altered. Underage drinking can be associated with depression, anxiety and even suicide. Scientists have found that the human mind is not entirely developed until a person is in their twenties; therefore drinking while the brain is still growing can have serious long-term effects on the brain. Peer pressure can play a big a part in a teenager’s college career. Underage drinking can have serious social consequences for teens as well. Making responsible decisions can be harder when drinking and teenagers are more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. These actions may result in sexually transmitted diseases, some which can be deadly, or an unplanned pregnancy. Underage drinking can prevent students from having healthy relationships and enjoying success in life. Waiting until you are twenty-one to drink can be a really responsible decision in life.
This controversial topic has presented numerous questions that I felt my dad, a current LAPD officer/detective, would be able to shed some light on. My dad has been working with the law for over twenty years. He has been both on the street fighting against crime and in the office researching topics such as this one. While talking with him, he revealed that drunk driving and rape are the two most highly committed crimes committed while under the influence. Being a father of two children, me (twenty-one) and my brother (eighteen), my father definitely has a biased opinion on this issue. With a child just entering college, my parents are certainly educating my brother on the potential consequences of drinking at such an early age, which is why this topic hit so close to home. LAPD has a program called D.A.R.E that is intended to educate students of all ages on drugs, alcohol, and their possible disadvantages. My dad feels strongly about the relationship parents have with their children to help end this cycle of underage drinking. “Be proactive! Engage in your childrens' lives. Be available for them to come and talk to you about anything” he says.
Unfortunately, alcohol in today’s society is easily accessible and extensively promoted everywhere. Underage drinking is very unsafe, not only for the drinker, but also for other people in our society. Individuals that begin drinking early in life can be at risk for developing serious alcohol problems in the future. Once underage drinking is initiated, they can face a number of possible health risks. The argument over defining the ideal drinking age to reduce alcohol traffic mortalities, binge drinking, and long-term effects on an undeveloped brain is likely to continue. Regardless, it is vital for society to make sure that minors understand the dangers of drinking and its possible outcomes.