Currently in the United States, you must be at least 21 years of age in order to purchase or consume alcohol. The subjects of drugs and alcohol have been long-standing controversial issues that have sparked debates for many years in the U. S. Because of the obvious dangers and long-term damage alcohol has been proven to do on the body one must wonder why it is legal to drink or produce alcohol in the first place. In some ways, alcohol and drugs have the same kind of effects on the body and cause similar long-term damage, yet alcohol is legal and drugs are not.
That however is a different debate altogether as I will be focusing more on the risks and dangers of alcohol and whether or not the laws in the U. S. are fair for those to purchase alcohol. It is my belief that the drinking laws in this country are not fair and need to be changed. While most will agree with me that the laws do need to be changed, the majority of people think they should be more stringent and restrictive.
While I do feel that laws regarding drinking and driving need to be more restrictive, based on several factors, I will be arguing in favor of the drinking age being lowered from 21 years of age to 18 years of age. In this paper, I will be examining the history of legislation on alcohol in the U. S. and explain how the current drinking age of 21 was established. In fact, there was once a point in time when it was actually legal for an 18 year old to drink in the U. S. Also in this paper, I will be comparing the drinking age in the U.
S. to the drinking age in other countries around the world. The rest of the world’s opinions, traditions and laws on alcohol vary in many ways, so it is important to describe how drinking is viewed globally. Generally speaking, there are much looser restrictions on drinking around the world that help make my case for lowering the drinking age here in the U. S. If a lower drinking age works in other parts of the world then it definitely would seem to make sense it could be successful here as well.
In the beginning of the 20th century there were no restrictions on the sale, purchase or consumption of alcohol but that all changed when the National Prohibition Act of 1920 was passed by Congress. It became the 18th amendment to the Constitution and prohibited the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes. In 1933, however, the 21st amendment was ratified thus nullifying the 18th amendment.
It currently stands as the only amendment to completely cancel a previous amendment. It also gave each individual state the right to determine their own laws regarding alcohol. The laws regarding alcohol sale, distribution and transport remained in the hands of the states until the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 was passed. It required all states to increase their states’ drinking age to 21 years of age. In order to ensure that the states abided by the act any state that did not abide faced a reduction in highway funds under the Federal Highway Aid Act.
Since no state could afford to give up any portion of their much needed highway funding, every state cooperated with the act and thus the drinking age has remained at 21 years of age ever since (Hanson). According to EH. Net Encyclopedia, the main reasons for the prohibition of alcohol were the following: Historical accounts cite a range of factors as finally tipping sentiment in favor of national prohibition. One was the huge number of immigrants during the first decade and a half of the 20th century, since popular wisdom held that immigrants were heavy drinkers.
A second factor was increasing urbanization, which made the presence of the hard drinking, saloon frequenting, urban poor more visible. U. S. involvement in World War I may also have played a significant role, by legitimizing the view that turning grain into alcohol was wasteful, by creating an air of moral certainty that facilitated passage of prohibition, and by producing distaste for anything German (i. e. , beer) (Miron). Soon thereafter the prohibition of alcohol support waned which is when the 21st amendment was created. EH.
Net Encyclopedia said, “the two key factors usually credited with precipitating Prohibition’s demise are the Great Depression, which invalidated dry claims that Prohibition promoted prosperity and produced a need for tax revenue, and the increasing violence associated with Prohibition” (Miron). Between the years of 1920 and 1933 there was a spike in the homicide rate in the U. S. Ironically, it was one of the two largest increases to the homicide rate that occurred in the 20th century. Once the 18th amendment was repealed however, the homicide rate dropped substantially.
Though unrelated to alcohol, the other of the two increases to the homicide rate coincides with a strictly enforced drug prohibition. It draws an obvious conclusion that would make for an interesting study (Miron). Much like underage drinking has gone behind closed doors today, prohibition sent alcohol drinkers behind closed doors. It created a large demand for alcohol through a “forbidden fruit” effect, which made alcohol more attractive to people at the time (Miron). The same comparison can be made to today’s youth who drink in order to feel the rush of breaking the law. Over time laws have been found to be unsuccessful, unneeded and perhaps in this instance, unfair.
It is the job of lawmakers to adapt to the times and make corrections or amendments to laws, just as they have with the previous other 26 amendments. As time passes on people evolve and grow. New problems present themselves, old problems persist and sometimes problems fade. I am not saying that drinking is all of a sudden non-issue because there are certainly some interesting statistics that would say otherwise. As I mentioned before, the precedent has been set by the 18th and 21st amendments to the Constitution regarding alcohol and I do feel as though the time has come to re-examine and re-think the National Minimum Drinking Age Act.
While I do feel that the drinking age should be lowered, I do believe some laws need to be changed in order for it to work successfully. I am not naive enough to believe the system we have in place would allow for an easy transition to a lowered drinking age. However, whether the drinking age is lowered or not, I don’t think there are strong enough drunk driving penalties in the country currently. Driving under the influence of alcohol or any other illegal substance has been an ongoing public safety issue that needs to be looked at.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, more than 2. 1 million students ages 18-24 alone, drive under the influence of alcohol each year and 599,000 people in the same age bracket are injured each year under the influence of alcohol (Groves A1, A11). You can only imagine what the figures for the rest of Americans says about the problem of drinking and driving. One of the main reasons why there are such strong feelings regarding the drinking age and why there would be a huge backlash if the drinking age were lowered is drunk driving.
There are several interest groups, like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, whose sole focus is to prevent drinking and driving and make sure the proper laws are in place to prevent it. They make strong arguments for making more strict laws, which I will go into detail later on, although I do have several theories on how to make a lowered drinking age successful. Drinking and driving is not the only reason people are skeptical about lowering the drinking age though. Making such a drastic change would cause a lot of public fear but I believe if not in the best interest of the country it is definitely time for the change.
Presently, each state is allowed to determine their own legislation regarding punishments for drunk driving. In New Jersey for example, the maximum penalty for 1st time minor offenders is a license suspension of 30-90 days, 15-30 days of community service and possible participation in an alcohol education and highway safety course. For 1st time offenders who are of age the penalties can include a fine of $250-$400, imprisonment for up to 30 days and a 3 month license suspension. In order to be proactive towards managing the problem of drinking and driving these penalties need to be increased dramatically.
If legislation on lowering the drinking age were to pass I would institute a mandatory jail sentence of at least 90 days, as well as a license suspension of 1 year for the 1st offense for those between the ages of 18 and 20, no matter how high an individuals blood alcohol content. In order to put a stop to drinking and driving it is imperative the punishment is very severe. Before going into the remaining ideas I’ve developed and researched for lowering the drinking age, let’s take a look at how other countries treat the same topic.
The best way to test a theory is to setup an experiment involving that theory. Luckily we can use other countries to examine how a lower drinking age works since most countries legal drinking age is below ours. Amongst countries where alcohol isn’t prohibited by the law, the current U. S. drinking age of 21 is the highest in the world (Hanson). Several countries such as China, Poland and Portugal have no minimum drinking age while most of Europe has a drinking age of 18.
From the website ChooseResponsibility.org: Because the United States is among an extremely small minority of countries with a drinking age of 21, drinking by 18-20 year-old adults is not as intensely scrutinized in other parts of the world as it is in America… Recent research published by the World Health Organization found that in many European countries where the drinking age is 18 or younger (and often not enforced), 15 and 16 year-old teens have more drinking occasions per month, but fewer occasions of dangerous intoxication than their American counterparts.
In many southern European countries roughly one in ten of all drinking occasions results in intoxication, while in the United States almost half of all drinking occasions result in intoxication. In these countries the introduction of alcohol typically comes from parents. In the United States, where the drinking age is 21, parents are not legally afforded that opportunity, and as a result initiation to alcohol consumption is not responsibly controlled (Drinking and Culture). The statistics from the World Health Organization help support my claim for a lowered drinking age here in the U.
S. Europeans grow up in a culture where they have the ability to drink at a younger age, yet they have a lower rate of alcohol abuse. They are able to view it as a privilege and act in a responsible manner when they do drink. There is even at least one advocate for lowering the drinking age in the U. K. to 16 years of age. “John Ashton, director of public health at the Cumbria National Health Service Primary Care Trust, said that most 16-year-olds are already drinking and that treating them like adults could promote responsible drinking” (Join Together).
Another reason I found why a lowered drinking age works in Europe comes from previously noted David J. Hanson, Ph. D. He said: [Europeans] just historically have had a much healthier, more accepting attitude toward drinking. Italian teens, for example, are very intolerant of their peers who become intoxicated. It’s a very easy way to get excluded from a group … they think it’s stupid, unacceptable, and that’s true throughout most of Europe (Join Together).
Another reason why a lowered drinking age is successful in other parts of the world is the level of education regarding alcohol that is received. In the U. S.we leave most of the educational responsibilities of alcohol to school programs like D. A. R. E. According to their president, Glenn Levant their mission is, “to provide children with the skills they need to never get involved with tobacco, with alcohol, with drugs” (Leto).
They attempt to instill fear, labeling alcohol as a poison that is a gateway to other more serious substances. There is very little attention paid to teaching our young people how to drink responsibly, a fact that is lost here in America. In Spain for example, young people are allowed to consume alcohol in restaurants as long as they are with a parent or other adult.
There is irrefutable scientific evidence supports the fact that the early introduction of drinking is the safest way to reduce juvenile alcohol abuse (Ford). I believe if we focus our attention on teaching responsibility young people will respond positively and lowering the age will work. Based on the foreign outlook and apparent successes they’ve encountered with a drinking age of 18 and below around the globe, there are still many other reasons why I think the age should be lowered in the U. S. I think the fact that 18-year olds are able to enlist in the military and are entrusted to fight for our country yet cannot drink is a joke.
There is no reason to deny someone who is able to risk their life for their country the freedom that comes along with being able to drink. 18-year olds are at no greater risk of getting involved in an accident because of alcohol than a 21-year old. Not only are we allowed to enlist in the military at 18 but Americans are allowed to drive, though with restrictions, as early as 16. Also at the age of 18 we are allowed to choose to get married and also to vote, both powers that bear a much greater responsibility. Acting in fear is no way to live life.
It should be every individual’s responsibility to act morally and honorably. For those who cannot this is why we have the penalties we do for breaking laws. While it is tragic the number of alcohol related injuries and fatalities that occur on the roads every person does have to bear the burden of their choices. There is an inherent risk involved anytime a driver gets behind the wheel and preventing those people who are responsible enough to handle drinking doesn’t eliminate the potential for accidents. The website Choose Responsibility labels the increase in drinking age to 21 as “Legal Age 21.
” They have several statistics that disagree that the National Minimum Age Drinking Act has not had much success in reducing drunk driving incidents, some of which are: vFrom 1969 – 1975, when many teens could drink legally, the teen fatality rate decreased by 19%. vMore lives have been saved in the last two years alone by safety belts and air bags than have been saved in the 22 years since the adoption of Legal Age 21. vThe number of drunken driving fatalities tracks almost exactly, up or down, with the size of an age segment. So, when there is a larger number of 16-20 year olds, there is a larger number of drunken driving fatalities.
When the number is smaller, the fatalities decline (Legal Age 21). It would be unfair to only include reasons for lowering the drinking age so now I will talk about the reasons why it should not be lowered and give opinions from some prominent groups who agree. One of the most influential groups trying to keep the drinking age at 21, which I have mentioned previously, is the Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Along with the American Medical Association, National Transportation Safety Board and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety they formed a coalition named Support 21 who are trying to ensure no change is made to the minimum drinking age.
Since the inception of the National Minimum Age Drinking Act they estimate on average over 900 lives have been saved by forcing all states to institute the 21-year age restriction (Join Together). Some of the beliefs that the Support 21 coalition have are that because a person’s brain doesn’t stop developing until their mid 20’s so therefore it is unreasonable to expect an 18-year old to be able to handle the responsibilities that go along with it. In conjunction with this, they believe drinking at this stage of life could cause irreversible short and long-term damage, limiting growth of the brain.
Aside from the scientific reasons, I do agree with a lot of their ideas in regard to punishments for drunk driving, as well as their educational beliefs. On the other hand, a lot of their beliefs seem far-fetched, particularly their link of alcohol directly causing an increase in domestic violence and sexual assault. They don’t provide any proof to substantiate such claims on their website which makes me question where they received their information from. For every reason I have detailed as a positive for lowering the drinking age in the U. S.the Support 21 coalition seems to have an answer why it would be a mistake.
For example, to dispute my claim that an 18-year old should be able to drink if they can enlist in the military they give the following explanation as to why it is incorrect: Many rights have different ages of initiation. You can get a hunting license at age 12, drive at 16, vote and serve in the military at 18, serve in the U. S. House of Representatives at 25, and serve as the U. S. President at 35.
Other regulated rights include the sale and use of tobacco, and legal consent for sexual intercourse and marriage. Vendors, such as car rental facilities and hotels, also have set the minimum age for a person to use their services—25-years-old to rent a car and 21-years-old to rent a hotel room. And these minimum ages are set for a reason. In the case of alcohol, 21 is the minimum age because a person’s brain does not stop developing until his or her early to mid-20s. Drinking alcohol while the brain is still developing can lead to long-lasting deficits in cognitive abilities, including learning and memory.
Alcohol use by those under 21 is also related to numerous health problems including injuries and death resulting from alcohol poisoning, car crashes, suicide, homicide, assaults, drowning and recreational mishaps. Not to mention that the early onset of drinking by youth significantly increases the risk of future health problems such as addiction (Why 21? ). This is another instance where I disagree with the Support 21 coalition. It is impractical to compare age restrictions on alcohol to age restrictions regarding renting a car or hotel room.
I found no proof in my research that shows damage or lack of brain growth has anything to do behind the reason for the drinking age being 21 years of age. Whether alcohol is involved or not people of all ages face the same dangers given in their reasoning and they also make no mention of the risk taken on by those 18-year olds that do enlist in the military. Overall, their views seem highly opinion-based and appear as if they are looking for any reason to validate their notions.
Before I wrap things up and provide my final conclusion and solutions on how the lowering of the drinking age can be successful, there is one other major issue of concern. Many people argue that lowering the drinking age would encourage binge drinking, radically defined by researchers at Harvard as drinking 5 or more drinks in one sitting (Leto). In actuality, there is no generally accepted definition, which makes statistics on the topic quite difficult to interpret. What most people against lowering the drinking age do agree on is that they feel it will lead to more alcohol abuse, most distinctly by college students.
All statistics that I have found say that binge drinking among college students has long been on the decline. The Institute for Social Research (ISR) at the University of Michigan found that college “binge” drinking in the United States recently reached the lowest level of the entire 17-year period that its surveys have been conducted. Similarly, it found that the proportion of drinkers has reached an all-time low among college students (Institute for Social Research). The same organization also found that the percentage of college students who abstain from drinking alcohol together is on the rise as well.
There are countless other statistics to help support the claim that youth drinking is on the decline and has been on the decline for years. According to the national college Freshman Survey, “freshmen entering college in 2003 reported the lowest rates of drinking in the 38-year history of the survey. The proportion reporting occasional or frequent beer drinking dropped to an historic low of 44. 8%, down from 73. 7% in 1982” (Higher Education Research Center). This all leads me to conclude that lowering the drinking in the U. S. to 18 years of age can work and should happen.
As I said before I believe the time has come for the laws surrounding alcohol to change. All of the statistics I’ve mentioned help support my claim and also dispute the claims of organizations that strive to keep the drinking age at 21. Again, making this change in a snap of the fingers is not my intent. I do believe gradual steps need to be taken in order for the change to be successful. Along the way I have found a few interesting proposals to lower the drinking age. Here are two different proposals that I found regarding the lowering of the drinking age. The first comes from Dr.
Ruth Engs, Professor of Applied Sciences at Indiana University. In an interview with Dr. David Hanson she said, “I propose that the drinking age be lowered to about 18 or 19 and permit those of legal age to consume in socially controlled environment such as restaurants and official school and university functions. I also propose that individuals of any age be permitted to consume alcohol under the direct supervision of their parents in their own homes” (“The Drinking Age Should Be Lowered”). She believes, as Prohibition did in 1920, raising the drinking age to 21 has been counter productive and only exacerbated the problem.
Before the age was increased she went on to say that proportion of Americans who do drink was on the decline beginning in 1980, 7 years before all 50 states were mandated to enforce the 21-year old drinking age (“The Drinking Age Should Be Lowered”). The second theory I found comes from long-time college administrator Dr. Roderic B. Park. His radical proposal is to issue learner permits to underage youths as a way to teach drinking in moderation and reduce alcohol abuse. He would allow for those under the age of 21 to apply for a drinking permit with the permission of their parent or guardian.
Under his proposal, youths would be able to receive the permit if they were able to pass an alcohol awareness course that would teach the expectations of responsible use of alcohol. He also suggests that with the permit we would be able to monitor the cardholder’s conduct and be able to see firsthand how well the class did to teach responsibility (“Drinking ‘Learner Permits’ for Underage Persons”). While this idea in theory sounds interesting I don’t think it is the best way to usher in a change. Aside from the educational benefit there are too many risks involved and not enough can be done to control anyone who earns the permit.
After gathering all this information on the risks and benefits of lowering the drinking age I believe the initial thesis I had is accurate. I do feel as though the culture in the U. S. has been changing steadily regarding alcohol and there is enough cause to lower the drinking age to 18. In fact, several states are in the process of attempting to have their drinking age lowered from the current standard. These states believe, as do I, that if men and women are capable of being sent into war in Iraq and Afghanistan then they should be able to buy alcohol legally.
Kentucky, Wisconsin and South Carolina are among the states that would lower the drinking age but limit it to military personnel only. Missouri, Minnesota and South Dakota on the other hand are planning initiative to open it up more to the general population (Keen). As I have mentioned throughout this paper, I would support a lowered drinking age though with restrictions. There were many interesting viewpoints I discovered that I was unaware of before and I can honestly say that I think lowering the drinking age can be successful.
In order for a lowered age to work I would propose much more funding go into education regarding alcohol consumption. The previously mentioned approach by D. A. R. E. is not the way to go about solving the problems alcohol causes. If we teach the youth of America how to drink responsibly and monitor it within the home as done in Europe, instead of ignoring the behind closed door mentality that exists, then a lowered age can be successful. No matter what the drinking age is there are always going to be a few people who don’t know how to be responsible.
Today’s youth have been forced to grow up quickly in these troublesome times we face in the U. S. today and with every passing day they prove able to make the appropriate decisions. They are the future of this great country and deserve to be given the same freedoms as everyone else, something they don’t have until the drinking age is lowered. References “Addressing Underage Drinking. ” Why 21?. 3 May 2008 http://why21. org/under21/. “Americans Attracted by Relaxed European Attitudes About Drinking . ” Join Together. 18 April 2005. 29 April 2008 http://www. jointogether.
org/news/headlines/inthenews/2005/americans-attracted-by-about. html. “Drinking and Culture: International Comparisons. ” Choose Responsibility. 1 May 2008 http://www. chooseresponsibility. org/drinking_and_culture/. “Drinking ‘Learner Permits’ for Underage Persons. ” Alcohol: Problems and Solutions. 3 May 2008 http://www2. potsdam. edu/hansondj/YouthIssues/1048680374. html. DUI: Driving Under the Influence. ” State of New Jersey – Motor Vehicle Commission. 16 July 2007. 2 May 2008 http://www. state. nj. us/mvc/Violations/dui. htm. Ford, Gene. “What About the Drinking Age?. ” Alcohol : Problems and Solutions.
4 May 2008 http://www2. potsdam. edu/hansondj/YouthIssues/1046348192. html. Groves, Bob. Experts disagree on merits of cut in drinking age. ” Star Ledger 03282008: A1, A11. Hanson, David. Alcohol Problems and Solutions. 2007. State University of New York. 4 May 2008 http://www2. potsdam. edu/hansondj/LegalDrinkingAge. html. Higher Education Research Center/American Council on Education. American College Freshman College Survey. Political Interest on the Rebound Among Nation’s Freshmen, UCLA Survey Reveals. Higher Education Research Institute/American Council on Education press release, 1-26-04.
Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan,. 30 April 2008 http://www. isr. umich. edu/src/mtf. Keen, Judy. States weigh lowering drinking age. ” USA TOday 20 March 2008, online “Legal Age 21. ” Choose Responsibility. 29 April 2008 http://www. chooseresponsibility. org/legal_age_21/. Leto, Justin. “Binge Drinking & Problem Inflation. ” Alcohol: Problems and Solutions. 7 May 2008 http://www2. potsdam. edu/hansondj/YouthIssues/1046287266. html. Miron, Jeffrey. “Alcohol Prohibition”. EH. Net Encyclopedia, edited by Robert Whaples. September 25, 2001. http://eh. net/encyclopedia/article/miron.prohibition. alcohol. “Myths & Facts. ” Why 21?.
4 May 2008 http://why21. org/myths/. “New Campaign Opposes Lower Drinking Age . ” Join Together. 10 October 2007. 1 May 2008 http://www. jointogether. org/news/headlines/inthenews/2007/new-campaign-opposes-lower. html. “The Drinking Age Should Be Lowered”” Alcohol: Problems and Solutions. 4 May 2008 http://www2. potsdam. edu/hansondj/YouthIssues/1053520190. html. “U. K. Health Official Wants Drinking Age Lowered to 16. ” Join Together. 12 October 2007. 1May 2008 http://www. jointogether. org/news/headlines/inthenews/2007/uk-official-wants-drinking. html.