Should the Drinking Age Be Lowered to Eighteen?

Table of Content

Former United States Senator Byron Dorgan once said, “Nowhere in this state should we hold Torahs that permit imbibing and driving or imbibing in vehicles that are on American main roads. This is not rocket science. We know how to prevent this, and 36 provinces do” (

In 1984, Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which raised the minimum drinking age from 18 to 21. The rationale behind this legislation was studies indicating a higher number of teenage car accidents in provinces that had lowered the minimum drinking age during the Vietnam War epoch (

This essay could be plagiarized. Get your custom essay
“Dirty Pretty Things” Acts of Desperation: The State of Being Desperate
128 writers

ready to help you now

Get original paper

Without paying upfront

There are many convincing reasons why the national minimum drinking age should remain at twenty-one. Contrary to adolescent belief, alcohol consumption is not a right secured by the United States Constitution (Guy).

It is not unconstitutional for provinces to determine the age at which an individual can consume alcohol. Thanks to the 1984 National Minimum Drinking Age Act, many lives have been saved based on studies by the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration, which reflects that since 1982 there has been a 62 percent drop in alcohol-related teenage driving fatalities (Trex).

Lowering the minimum drinking age to eighteen would encourage the creation of more establishments such as bars to serve the additional sector of the population allowed to consume alcohol. Establishments like these support intoxication and increase overall crime in local neighborhoods (Stewart).

Additionally, many studies have shown that alcohol negatively impacts brain development and leads to abuse later in life (DeWit). Ever since the minimum drinking age was raised to 21, research has indicated that individuals under 21 consume less alcohol and generally do not drink heavily as they age (O’Malley). Eighteen-year-olds do not have the maturity and life experience to drink responsibly (

Alcohol is a known gateway drug that leads to increased susceptibility for users to graduate to stronger drugs like heroin and cocaine ( Numerous European states have a minimum drinking age significantly lower than the United States, and information shows higher rates of intoxication for European youth than for youth in the United States (Friese).

Despite undeniable evidence that the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 has protected many lives since its passage, a minority of the population has made ineffective attempts to overturn it and lower the drinking age once again to eighteen.

The minimum drinking age should remain at 21 because it reduces alcohol-related abuse and crimes in the United States and keeps citizens from causing harm to themselves and other Americans. Throughout history, the United States government has been very vigilant in determining appropriate ages for the allowance of certain privileges to be bestowed upon its citizens.

For instance, a single individual must be at least 21 years of age to legally buy a pistol, gamble in a casino (in most states), or adopt a child and must be at least 25 in order to rent a car (for most companies) or 35 to run for President (Fell). These limits are necessary in terms of protecting society and fostering the younger generations of our country. It has been argued that the legislation MDLA 21 infringes on the rights of young adults and is unconstitutional.

However, MLDA is not considered a constitutional right. In a U.S. District Court in Michigan, on December 22, 1978, the Honorable Ralph Guy Jr. observed that MLDA 21 is “reasonably related to a state aim of reducing highway crashes” and that MLDA 21 is constitutional based on three core tenants: (1) “drinking alcohol is not a ‘fundamental’ right guaranteed by the Constitution,” (2) “age is not inherently a ‘suspect’ standard for discrimination (in contrast to race or ethnicity, for example),” and (3) “using the drinking age to prevent highway crashes has a ‘rational basis’ in available scientific evidence” (Guy).

The Twenty-First Amendment gave states the authority to determine their respective minimum legal drinking ages. Almost as soon as Congress passed the Twenty-Sixth Amendment in 1971, which reduced the voting age to eighteen, individual states began lowering their minimum legal drinking age from 21 to eighteen because many rationalized that if eighteen-year-old individuals were responsible enough to vote, surely they could drink alcohol.

Because not all states lowered their minimum drinking ages to eighteen, often young teenagers would cross state borders known as “blood borders” to obtain alcohol and consume it in a more permissive state and then drive while fully intoxicated back to their state of origin. Inebriated teenagers would have to drive long distances to return home, which provided more opportunities for accidents to occur along their journey.

As a result, one of the tragic effects of a lack of uniformity between states regarding the minimum legal drinking age was a spike in the number of traffic fatalities among 18 to 20-year-old drivers.

This increase in teenage deaths birthed organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which promoted a minimum drinking age of 21 and uniformity between states’ policies regarding minimum drinking age requirements (Trex).

Eventually, President Reagan instituted the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984, which encouraged states to increase their minimum drinking age to 21 by making their eligibility to have access to federal highway funds dependent upon whether they raised their MLDA (

The National Highway Traffic Administration estimates that “MLDA 21 decreased the number of fatal traffic accidents for 18 to 20-year-olds by 13 percent and saved about 27,052 lives from 1975 to 2008” (

Additionally, in a 2009 study published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the results showed that “the percentage of weekend night drivers with a blood-alcohol concentration of .08 or higher declined from 5.4% in 1986 (two years after the MLDA was raised to 21) to 2.2% in 2007” (National Highway Administration, July 2009). There is an obvious correlation between a lower drinking age and an increase in alcohol-related traffic deaths.

Many drunk driving-related traffic accidents occur between the drunk individual’s home and the establishment that enabled them to become intoxicated. Therefore, where do most people go to enjoy an ice-cold beer or pomegranate margarita? They travel to a bar, nightclub, or saloon to drink away from home.

According to statistics, about 50 percent of drunk driving-related accidents or manslaughter incidents occur after a culprit consumes alcohol at a licensed drinking establishment (Anglin). Most people agree that bars, saloons, and nightclubs do not promote responsible drinking and, in fact, are unsafe environments.

The Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 2002, states that “seventy-six percent of bars have sold alcohol to obviously drunk patrons,” a figure which is staggering but reflects the lack of integrity prevalent among establishments of questionable reputation.

If the minimum drinking age is lowered, a larger segment of the American public would gain access to such establishments, thus contributing to the growth of these specific types of businesses. Individuals who are incapacitated by alcohol poisoning tend to commit more violent offenses as well as misdemeanors.

The criminal element in neighborhoods increases exponentially when combined with high amounts of alcohol consumption by individuals at a local bar or nightclub. In her 2012 article “How Alcohol Outlets Affect Neighborhood Violence,” Kathryn Stewart observes that “neighborhoods with higher densities of bars, nightclubs, and other alcohol-selling locations suffer more frequent assaults and other violent crimes” (Stewart).

Continuing to hold legislation that keeps the minimum drinking age higher not only reduces neighborhood offenses but also traffic accidents, assaults, and deaths. Keeping the minimum drinking age at 21 is not only healthy and life-saving for the overall public of the United States but also has positive effects for the individual and their physical well-being throughout all stages of life. Research shows that the human brain is still in the process of developing even into the later adolescent phases of life, and that frequent alcohol use significantly affects brain functionality, specifically learning, memory, and attention.

Contrary to the traditional belief that brain development during adolescence is merely a transitional phase between childhood and maturity, recent findings indicate that many of the changes that take place during the teenage years are unique to this phase of life and are not just extensions of childhood development. Life experiences greatly influence the teenage brain just as they do in childhood (White).

Generally, the longer an individual lives, the more life experience they gain. Logic dictates that a twenty-one-year-old person would most likely be more mature than an eighteen-year-old person because of their three-year advantage over the other. There are many lifestyle adjustments that occur when young adults turn 18 that make them more vulnerable to engaging in potentially harmful activities and substance abuse.

Conversely, twenty-one-year-olds have already settled into a routine of responsibilities and independence, making them less likely to engage in foolish and immature decision-making ( Eighteen-year-olds do not have the maturity and life experience to drink responsibly (

The pressures of everyday adult life can be overwhelming for eighteen-year-olds who are just leaving the safety of their parents’ home. Pressures often lead to abuse of not only alcohol but also other mind-blunting drugs.

In the United States, alcohol is considered a gateway drug, a habit which leads to increased inclination for users to graduate to stronger drugs like heroin and cocaine. In 1992, the Journal of Studies of Alcohol and Drugs found that “the younger a person begins to drink alcohol, the more likely it is that they will use other illicit drugs” (Kandel).

Additionally, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported in 1996 that “those who started drinking before 15 were 101 times more likely to use cocaine than someone who abstained from alcohol” ( As a result of these findings, if the drinking age is lowered from 21 to eighteen, it is reasonable to expect that illicit drug use would also expand among adolescents (O’Malley).

Scientific studies suggest that the earlier in life a person consumes their first alcoholic drink, the higher the risk that they will eventually develop severe alcohol disorders and alcohol abuse later in life. According to findings in a study by David J. DeWit, Ph.D., “A potentially powerful predictor of patterned advance to alcohol-related injury is age at first usage.”

In a recent study published by the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, individuals who spent their formative years in the 1970s in states where the legal drinking age was lowered to eighteen were more susceptible to what is termed “binge drinking.”

Andrew Plunk, PhD, observes, “It wasn’t just that lower minimum drinking ages had a negative impact on people when they were young…even decades later, the ability to legally buy alcohol before age 21 was associated with more frequent binge drinking” (Dryden). In other words, lower drinking ages correlate with higher sensitivities to binge drinking and alcohol abuse later in life.

Ralph Hingson, Director of the Division of Epidemiology and Prevention Research at NIAAA, corroborates, “The benefits of the MLDA of 21 carry over into adult life, preventing injuries to adult alcohol consumers and other people” (Science Daily).

It has been proven that since 1984 when the majority of states complied with the rise in the minimum drinking age to 21, the overall percentage of underage drinkers diminished significantly (Fell).

Additionally, according to a 2002 study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol, eighty-seven percent of these studies discovered a direct correlation between lower alcohol consumption and higher minimum legal drinking ages (Wagenaar).

There is no doubt that consuming alcoholic drinks below the age of 18 has been scientifically shown to negatively impact the human brain and lead to destructive behavioral patterns later in life, such as illicit drug use and binge drinking.

Many European countries have lower minimum drinking age limits than the United States. Some people believe that European teenagers learn to drink responsibly at an earlier age and within the context of a family environment, which in turn cultivates moderation. According to statistics from studies done by the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs, “A majority of the European countries have higher poisoning rates among young people than do youths from the United States, and about one-third of the countries have equal or lower rates to the United States.”

Therefore, in actuality, European adolescents have just as many, if not more, problems with alcohol abuse than teenagers in the United States. In fact, a large number of teenagers and young adults surveyed in European countries by the European School Survey Project confessed to alcohol poisoning before the age of 13.

Therefore, there is no reason for the United States to abandon legislation maintaining a higher minimum drinking age limit or to institute programs which educate and encourage responsible drinking to teenagers (Friese).

In conclusion, there has always been strong public support for a minimum drinking age of 21. In 2007, a Gallup poll showed that “seventy-seven percent of Americans would oppose a federal law that lowers the drinking age in all states to age eighteen” (Carroll).

All evidence shows conclusively that a lower drinking age promotes numerous negative effects both on the individual and society as a whole. Individuals who start drinking alcohol at earlier ages affect their brain’s development, have more of a tendency towards developing alcohol dependence and abuse even decades after initial use, graduate to using other illicit drugs that are more addictive and harmful, commit crimes, and tend to be involved in alcohol-related traffic deaths (DeWit).

Eighteen-year-olds do not have the maturity to drink responsibly, particularly when they are in the middle of formative stages of life, which are very complicated and difficult ( The increased number of individuals eligible to consume alcohol would increase the number of bars, clubs, and pubs throughout this nation’s neighborhoods, thus attracting undesirables and causing a rise in violent crimes committed (Stewart).

The United States tried lowering the minimum drinking age during the 1970s, which resulted in higher traffic-related drunk driving accidents and deaths among teenage drivers. Once the 1984 National Minimum Drinking Age Act raised the minimum drinking age, the number of teenage deaths diminished significantly, and many deaths have been avoided (

Even though eighteen-year-olds have been given the right to vote, it does not mean they can make informed decisions about alcohol consumption conclusively. Drinking is not considered a constitutional right in this country, but the government can regulate the minimum drinking age based on what it deems is in the American public’s best interest (Guy).

European countries have always had lower minimum drinking ages for their young people and have maintained that they teach their populations to drink responsibly from birth to maturity. However, the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs admits that poisoning rates for teenagers in European countries are equal to or higher than comparable age groups in the United States (Friese).

European and American research, statistics, and scientific studies all show beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is no benefit socially or individually to lowering the minimum drinking age from 21 to eighteen in the United States now or in the future.

Plants Cited:

  1. Anglin, Lise, et al. “A Study of Impaired Drivers Stopped by Police in Sudbury, Ontario.” Toronto: Addiction Research Foundation, 1997.
  2. Carroll, Joseph. “Most Americans Oppose Lowering Legal Drinking Age to 18 Nationwide.” World Wide Web. July 27, 2007.
  3. “Connection Between Alcohol and Drugs.” DARA Drug & Alcohol Rehab Asia. Drug & Alcohol Rehab Asia, n.d. Web. April 10, 2013.
  4. DeWit, David J., Edward M. Adlaf, David R. Offord, and Alan C. Ogborne. “Age at First Alcohol Use: A Risk Factor for the Development of Alcohol Disorders.” The American Journal of Psychiatry. American Psychiatric Association, May 1, 2000. Web. April 10, 2013.
  5. Dorgan, Byron. “Byron Dorgan Quotes & Sayings.” Search Quotes. N.p., n.d. Web. April 10, 2013.
  6. Dryden, Jim. “Lower Drinking Ages Lead to More Binge Drinking.” Newsroom. Washington University in St. Louis, February 6, 2013. Web. April 10, 2013.
  7. Eby, David. “The Convicted Drunk Driver in Michigan: A Profile of Offenders.” UMTRI Research Review, 1995.
  8. Fell, James C. “An Examination of the Criticisms of the Minimum Legal Drinking Age 21 Laws in the United States from a Traffic-Safety Perspective.” World Wide Web., October 2008.
  9. Friese, Bettina, and Joel W. Grube. “Youth Drinking Rates and Problems: A Comparison of European Countries and the United States.” Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, 2010.
  10. Kandel, Denise et al. “Stages of Progression in Drug Involvement from Adolescence to Adulthood: Further Evidence for the Gateway Theory.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 1992.
  11. “Lower Drinking Ages Can Have an Impact on Later Drinking Patterns.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, January 22, 2013. Web. April 15, 2013.
  12. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “Traffic Safety Facts.”, 2008.
  13. O’Malley, Patrick and Alexander C. Wagenaar. “Minimum Drinking Age Laws: Effects on American Youth.” Institute for Social Research. World Wide Web., 1990.
  14. O’Donnell, Mary A. “Research on Drinking Locations of Alcohol-Impaired Drivers: Deductions for Prevention Policies.” Journal of Public Health Policy, 1985.
  15. “Drinking Age”, March 22, 2013. Web. March 30, 2013.
  16. “Results of the 2007 National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers.” National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, July 2009.
  17. Stewart, Kathryn. “How Alcohol Outlets Affect Neighborhood Violence.” Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (accessed March 28, 2012).
  18. Trex, Ethan. “Why Is the Drinking Age 21?” The Week. THE WEEK PUBLICATIONS, INC., January 18, 2013. Web. April 10, 2013.
  19. Wagenaar, Alexander C. and Traci L. Toomey. “Effects of Minimum Drinking Age Laws: Reappraisal and Analyses of the Literature from 1960 to 2000.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 2002.

Cite this page

Should the Drinking Age Be Lowered to Eighteen?. (2017, Sep 06). Retrieved from

Remember! This essay was written by a student

You can get a custom paper by one of our expert writers

Order custom paper Without paying upfront