It is my personal opinion that the legal age for drinking should remain 21. While it true that many adolescents have some type of alcoholic beverage before the age of 21, it is only inviting youths to be able to consume alcohol before their young minds are capable of the responsibility of handling the effects of alcohol.
After the 21st Amendment to the Constitution repealed Prohibition in 1933, each state was given discretion to set its own legal drinking age and most states set the age at 21. In the 1970’s, the laws began to change when some states began lowing the minimum legal drinking age. The states that chose to lower the legal drinking age soon began to see an increase in the sale and consumption of alcohol as well as alcohol-involved fatal traffic accidents, especially in the age group of 18 to 20-year old young adults. Some states reinstated the legal drinking age back to 21 due to unforeseen and unintended consequences of lowering the drinking age. By 1984, the National Minimum Drinking Age Act law was enacted by President Ronald Reagan and Congress which prohibited the sale of alcohol to any person under the age of 21. By 1988, all states had a minimum drinking age of 21 in effect.
In 1984, a growing debate fueled by a few public groups and some university and college presidents to lower the minimum drinking age to 18 and was called the Amethyst Initiative. The main focus for the change of policy was that it would help young people make healthier choices about alcohol and drinking. During the early 1980’s, research showed that there was a shift in the drinking behavior of young adults between the ages 21 to 24 but young adults between the ages of 18 to 20 remained stable.
Research has shown that 11% of all alcohol consumed in the United States is consumed by people between the ages of 12 and 20. Thirty three percent of teenagers reported that they had consumed at least one drink by the age of 15 and 60% of 18-year old teens reported that they had taken at least one drink. As young adults mature, they are more prone to utilize their newfound independence and may find themselves seeking out new challenges and taking more risks. This may include consuming alcohol or even using drugs.
Although adults drink more often, when young adults consume alcohol, they tend to drink more than adults. Ninety percent of teenage drinking between the ages of 12 and 20 is by binge drinking, which is the consumption of a large amount of alcohol in a short amount of time. Binge drinking is the most common, costly and deadly practice of excessive alcohol use. Today’s youth has stated that generally they drink alcohol in large quantities to “pass out” versus the youth of the past that drank alcohol to be social.
Youths that indulge in consuming alcohol or binge drinking do not fully understand the risks they are assuming or the consequences they may face. The consumption of alcohol is the third leading cause of death in the United States and is a contributing cause of unintentional injuries among young adults. Alcohol consumption is also associated with health issues, physical and sexual assault, unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, violence, crime, overdoses as well the use of other substances. Underage drinking can create situations and circumstances that can negatively affect the youth for a lifetime. Underage drinking contributes to conditions such as depression and stress which can lead to suicide which is the third leading cause of death among teens ages 14 to 25. One study produced results where 37% of 8th grade females who drank heavily reported having attempted suicide. That number is astounding.
Underage drinking affects brain development and can create circumstances that can affect the youth. Drinking alcohol can rewire the brain which can lead to experimentation and graduation to other substances. The frontal cortex which is the part of the brain that involves making decisions, planning, social interactions, relationships and personality does not fully develop until around the age of 25. The consumption of alcohol before that time can permanently change the physiology of the brain and it cannot be reversed. Young teens are at the stage of brain development that a switch can be turned on that makes them more susceptible to an alcohol addiction.
Society should be researching ways to prevent underage drinking rather than encouraging laws to be changed to lower the legal minimum drinking age. The parent-child relationship, discipline, communication, monitoring and supervision are all factors which weigh in to help deter underage drinking. There are also some high school based programs for youths that have already begun drinking to try to minimize the damage and change the drinker’s practices. Lowering the current age would give high schoolers and middle schoolers easier access to alcohol. During research studies, it was shown that newly-legal drinkers often purchased alcohol for their underaged peers which creates a “trickle-down” effect.
While the minimum legal drinking age is 21, young adults are typically between the ages of 17 and 18 years old when they enter college. This is why some college and university presidents have pushed for the legal age to be lowered. They stipulate that younger students entering college will be educated about the pitfalls of binge drinking because while they are surrounded by their older peers are may be indulging in those type of activities. College presidents are hard pressed to enforce he MLDA (minimum legal age) because all students are cohabitating within the campus grounds with some being age appropriate while others are not. It is also difficult for law enforcement to enforce these rules while the students are on campus because of these very same situations.
The bottom line for the debate of lowering the minimum drinking age is there are too many risks factors involved in lowering the current age of 21. While 18 years old may be the age of consent to vote and 16 years old is the legal age to drive, neither of these two activities harm the development of the still developing brain or can be direct cause of promoting the youth to indulge in unhealthy situations which can life altering. The available data shows that teen drinking is more attributable to vehicular deaths and the use of hardened drugs than any other association. These reasons alone should be enough to realize that lowering the drinking age would be completely irresponsible and would cause much more harm than good for society as a whole.