The Legal Drinking Age

Are you 21? The debate over lowering the drinking age has become an ongoing discussion for many decades. “In 1984, Congress passed the Uniform Drinking Age Act, which required states to have a minimum drinking age of 21, for all types of alcohol consumption if they wanted to receive federal highway monies. The legal drinking age has remained at 21”, even though many have shown their disapproval. Alcohol is a dangerous drug that impairs the senses and should only be consumed responsibly. Therefore, underage drinking, should not be allowed in any country because of the immense number of health and safety concerns associated with it. Alcohol is one of the oldest and most popular used drugs in the world. Many drinks it for celebrations or as a personal beverage. Alcohol has provided a variety of functions for people throughout all history. From the earliest times to the present, alcohol has played an important role in religion and worship.

The history of alcohol and drinking is a fascinating part of our past. Historically, alcoholic beverages have served as sources of needed nutrients. They have been widely used for their medicinal, antiseptic, and analgesic properties. The role of such beverages as a drink for personal pleasure has grew throughout the course of history. It has also played an important role in enhancing the enjoyment of life. They can be a social lubricant, facilitate relaxation, can provide pharmacological pleasure, and increase the pleasure of eating. Thus, while alcohol has always been misused by a minority of drinkers, it has been beneficial to most. Some individuals will agree with the statements above about alcohol when asked about whether the drinking age should be lowered. Yes, alcohol has its pros, but the cons are must worse. What people are not aware of are the consequences of such actions. First, alcohol is a depressant.

It slows down your body functions, such as your metabolism. The phrase “beer belly” references someone who has faced this effect of alcohol. Alcohol is also highly addictive, and it does not take long for one to become an alcoholic. Studies have shown that drinking often begins at very young ages. Exposing alcohol to underage teens, increases their risk of becoming an alcoholic in their adult years. Once they get a taste of this beverage they usually want more because they enjoy the way it makes them feel. Every state has set a legal drinking at the age of twenty-one, the legal. In the time between 1970 and 1975, twenty-nine states lowered their drinking age to eighteen. During the late seventies, studies showed that traffic crashes had drastically increased after lowering the drinking age. Once this was announced, many groups created a movement to increase the minimum drinking age, and sixteen states did so. The Uniform Drinking Act passed in 1984, this encouraged the remaining thirteen states who had lowered it to raise their drinking age back to twenty-one.

The government threatened to cut highway funding if the states did not agree to raise the age by 1987 (Guha). Supporters of the lower drinking age argue that when the drinking age is set at twenty-one, there is an unavoidably huge increase in alcohol use when youths, turning twenty-one, “make up for lost time.” However, a study done by Alexander Wagenaar and PM O’Malley found that when the minimum drinking age was twenty-one, there was a lower use of alcohol after they turn twenty-one. Additionally, supporters of the lower age also commonly compare the U.S. to Europe because they have lower drinking ages. However, the rate of alcohol-related diseases in European countries with an eighteen or lower drinking age, such as liver cirrhosis is higher than in the United States (Guha). Also, drunk driving among youth in Europe is lower, but only because the legal driving age in most European countries is higher. Furthermore, the use of public transportation is greater in Europe, where as in the United States fewer people take advantage of public transportation.

It is also argued that since the legal drinking age is at twenty-one, many youths can still easily obtain and drink alcohol, so it is evident that the current drinking age does not completely stop youth from indulging. It stands reason to conclude that if the drinking age were to be lowered to eighteen, even younger children would have access and be using alcohol. Therefore, this would have an adverse effect on our society, and definitely not a positive effect. A very popular question asked is, what are the effects of lowering the drinking age on society? Statistics from other countries with lower drinking ages can be used as a reference for this question. In 1999, New Zealand lowered its drinking age from 20 to 18. The result, according to the studies, was an enormous increase in automobile crashes. The rate of traffic crashes and injuries for 18-19-year-old males increased by 12 percent and increased 14 percent, for males aged 15-17.

For females, the effect was even greater as rates grew 51 percent for 18-19-year old and 24 percent for 15-17-year-old. If they lowered the minimum drinking age in the United States, there will be greater amounts of alcohol for kids that are under the age of 18. Minimum Legal Drinking Age laws save approximately 800-900 lives each year. Medical research even shows that excessive drinking by people 20 and younger may cause brain damage. Lowering the drinking age will increase deaths and cause a major impact on the younger generations. Researchers looked at data from 1990-2004 U.S. Multiple Cause of Death files and the U.S. Census and American Community Survey. They found that there were more than 200,000 suicides and 130,000 homicides among people who turned 18 between 1967 and 1989. These are the years during which the legal drinking age was still moving.

People were dying before they could even reach the age of 21. Researchers also found that the risks of suicide and homicide remained higher into adulthood for young people living in states that had lowered their drinking age. These numbers were very high for women. Women who grew up in states where the alcohol drinking age was under 21, had a 12% higher risk of suicide and 15% higher risk of homicide in adulthood, compared with those in states with a higher drinking age. Suicide and homicide are very different in devasting events. For homicide, females are victimized by acquaintances in 92% of the cases. If they lower drinking ages, the result will elevate rates of alcohol problems. This could contribute to alcohol-fueled domestic violence. Alcohol use by both women and their partners could contribute to domestic-violence situations. In cases of suicide, it may be that alcohol contributes to the severity of suicide attempts.

In general, women attempt suicide more often than men, but men complete or die from suicide more often than women. Alcohol problems may tip the balance by turning attempts into completions more often, and this would be extremely risky for women because they have a higher number of attempted suicides. The debate over legal drinking continues to be couched in terms of personal freedoms. “Alcohol-control policies are always controversial, as many people are generally in opposition to laws which seem to govern individual choices and behavior,” noted Carla Main. In 2008, in response to continued underage drinking and binge drinking on college campuses, college presidents and university chancellors launched the Amethyst Initiative to lower the drinking limit to 18 once more. The initiative also asks “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 but lowering the drinking age isn’t the answer. My claim is further supported by the correlation between alcohol abuse and underage drinking. Scientists at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism claimed that teens who begin drinking prior to the age of fifteen are at four times the risk of becoming alcoholics.

That same institute also found that abuse of alcohol doubles in those who begin drinking before the age of fifteen in comparison to those who first drink at the age of twenty-one. In addition, it was found that twenty-five percent of people studied who began drinking before the age of seventeen went on to become alcoholics.” Alcohol use is reported in more than one-fifth of the following issues; assaults, drowning, suicides, vandalism, and teenage pregnancies. More than one-third of adolescent suicide victims have a detectable blood alcohol level. In a study of suicides occurring during 1970 to 1990, they found that the suicide rates of eighteen to twenty-year old living in states with a drinking age less than twenty-one was eight percent higher than in states where the drinking age was twenty-one.

Alcohol causes teens and young adults to go down the wrong path. For example, if the drinking age were to be lowered the actions of teens would not change. They would be reckless, and it would cause many casualties. “Alcohol should be forbidden to 18- to 20-year-olds precisely because they have a propensity to binge drink whether the stuff is illegal or not, especially males.” They have tendencies to think its “cool” and don’t know the harm that will follow. Drinking alcohol usually leads to the use of other illegal drugs too. “Youths who report drinking prior to the age of 15 are more likely to develop substance abuse problems, to engage in risky sexual behavior, and to experience other negative consequences in comparison to those who begin at a later time” (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). Alcohol can have a huge effect or your brain functions. Alcohol is known for slowing the reaction time, resulting in less control of the individual’s actions.

When someone is under the influence of alcohol, their speech changes and their vision blurs. This is the cause for most accidents that occur when people are drinking and driving. According to Carla Main, “on average 1,100 a year die from alcohol-related traffic crashes and another 300 die in non-traffic alcohol-related deaths. According to the CAS, among the 8 million college students in the United States surveyed in one study year, more than 2 million drove under the influence of alcohol and more than 3 million rode in cars with drivers who had been drinking”. Based on these statistics, we can infer that the safety of the general population will be in danger if alcohol was giving to high school seniors.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services even reported that “relative to adults, young people who drink and drive have an increased risk of alcohol-related crashes because of their relative inexperience behind the wheel and their increased impairment from alcohol.” Other accidents that can occur due to alcohol are “…poisonings, drownings, falls, burns.” Alcohol alters your judgment and allows the person to react to situations in ways that they would not normally do. This will increase the amount of sexual assault cases and incidents of people going missing. A girl was downtown the other week in Columbia and was murdered. She was under the influence of alcohol and couldn’t tell the difference in cars from her uber. This girl was above the age of 21, but her mind was still blurred.

For a person under the age of 21, the effects of alcohol would be a lot stronger which can be very dangerous. A young persons’ brain is very fragile during teenage and young adulthood. The brain is still forming at this time, so therefore when the brain is exposed to the chemicals that the alcohol contains. It can cause the person to be victim to unhealthy and permanent brain damage. Once alcohol is put into one’s system it is pushed throughout the body and cause multiple health problems that may result in permanent damage to the organ. Research backs up the claim that the legal drinking age should remain at 21. To sum it up, teenagers have not developed the cognitive, social, and psychological maturity that is needed to make thoughtful and logical decisions that arise from alcohol use; in addition, the teenage body has not yet finished its physical maturation process. Therefore, if the government lowers the legal drinking age from 21 it would be the equivalent of endorsing the hindrance of the maturation processes that are vital to human development that pave the way to adolescents being responsible adults in society. In short, we need to use research to form our stance around lowering the drinking age, not the general opinion. The most important reason to keep the legal drinking age at twenty-one is because of the effects it has on the health of the user.

Alcohol is very harmful to our bodies if consumed continuously in large amounts. Even when you consume little amounts at a time, it’s still a poison to the body. The consumption of alcoholic beverages, particularly in excessive amounts, before the body has undergone full maturity could stunt the body’s healthy development, in turn causing lifelong deficits. At 16 or even 18 years of age, a teenager is not as equipped to think ahead and make wise decisions, and this becomes even more apparent under the influence of alcohol. This is the reason the legal drinking age is in place to help reduce the potentially dangerous situations that can be found in the research of the (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services vi). The research behind the use of alcohol in teenagers is alarming. According to Guha, the minimum legal drinking age “has a statistically significant impact on youthful fatality rates”, and suggests that there would be a rise in almost every category of alcohol-related events such as dangerous sexual activities, car accidents, suicides etc. If someone were to binge drink the drinker has a very good chance of getting alcohol poisoning, which could lead to the death of that person or serious injury. Alcohol is very harmful to many, if not all, of the organs.

According to Albert S. Whiting “there is a great deal of evidence to show that even a small amount of alcohol can be quite harmful to the heart.” Whiting also stated that “alcohol has a direct effect on heart muscle cells” (“Alcohol Use Is Harmful”). When you drink alcohol, it speeds up the heart rate because you are then becoming dehydrated. The body is trying to get rid of the poison that the alcohol has in it. Speeding up the heart rate can be very bad for anyone. It can shorten your life expectancy and cause serious heart problems. A long-term effect that alcohol can have on the heart is that it “has an influence on the risk factors for coronary heart disease” (Whiting). The alcohol spreads through all of the blood stream it goes through in every organ. The reason that the drinker’s memory is blurred or they “black out” while using this substance would be because it is affecting the brain which controls all parts of the body. “The organ most sensitive to alcohol is the brain… Alcohol destroys brain cells which, unlike the blood cells it also destroys, are irreplaceable. The reaction times are slowed, and their muscle coordination is less efficient” (Whiting).

The future of the world is in the hands of the younger generations. Alcohol will not benefit society and increase the potential of the younger generations. Lowering the age is giving the kids of the world the wrong message. It’s promoting the use of a poison that will bring negative consequences in their future. Alcohol will hurt the economy as more people will lose their life due to improper usages. Alcohol can be a fun way to celebrate and have good time with friends. It’s a drink that comes with its pros and cons. Alcohol should always be drunk responsibly and by those who are of the legal age. Many will disagree with the rule, but its for their own safety. Alcohol misusage can change your whole life without you thinking about it.

The age of 21 is the right and smart age to consume this beverage. The age should never be changed. It has saved a lot of heartbreaks and lives and will continue to do so. These reasons, among many others, are why the legal drinking age should stay at 21. Although it would be unrealistic to think teenagers won’t experiment at younger ages, we as a society and our government cannot endorse adolescents’ use of alcohol. On top of maintaining the legal drinking age, those in close contact with teens such as parents, teachers, coaches, etc. should promote healthy lifestyle ideals and deter youth away from unsafe alcoholic consumption. There may be nothing we can do about alcohol becoming engrained in youth societal activities, but the least we can do is encourage responsible use. Adolescents’ cognitive and physical development must be protected. As adults, they will be prepared to, and hopefully will make responsible decisions surrounding the consumption of alcohol.

Works Cited

  1. “Arguments for Lowering the Legal Drinking Age Are Not Valid.” Should the Legal Drinking Age Be Lowered? Ed. Stefan Kiesbye. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2008.
  2. At Issue. Rpt. from “Addressing the Minimum Legal Drinking Age (MLDA) in College Communities.” AlcoholPolicyMD.com. 2005.
  3. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 21 Apr. 2013.
  4. Main, Carla T. “The Minimum Legal Drinking Age Should Not Be Lowered.” Teens at Risk. Ed. Stephen P. Thompson. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2013.
  5. Opposing Viewpoints. Rpt. from “Underage Drinking and the Drinking Age.” http://www.hoover.org155 (1 June 2009).
  6. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 21 Apr. 2013.
  7. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Underage Drinking Is a Serious Problem.” A Comprehensive Plan for Preventing and Reducing Underage Drinking. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2006.
  8. Rpt. in Alcohol. Ed. Andrea C. Nakaya. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2008. Opposing Viewpoints. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 21 Apr. 2013.
  9. Whiting, Albert S. “Alcohol Use Is Harmful.” Gateway Drugs. Ed. Noël Merino. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2008.
  10. Opposing Viewpoints. Rpt. from “Alcohol and the Body.” http://www.wctu.org/alcohol_and_the_body.html.
  11. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 21 Apr. 2013.
  12. Guha, Martin. “Encyclopedia of Drugs, Alcohol and Addictive Behavior (3rd Ed.).” Alcohol and Disease, McMillan Reference, www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/full/10.1108/09504120910978834.
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