People have always wanted what they cannot have. Starting in 1984, this is the attitude most lawmakers in America have taken with respect to underage drinking, since it was the time when many states changed their drinking age from eighteen to twenty-one. Lawmakers thought that if you raised the drinking age, people could drink more responsibly, because as you grow older, your brain matures and with maturity comes responsibility. Although this law, passed not even twenty years ago, was made for the safety of young adults, people now are arguing to have the law returned to the age of eighteen.
Many college students, professors and teachers have a lot to say about this topic. From John McCardell, former head of Middlebury College, to the Mother’s Against Drunk Driving Association, people have different views on the responsibility that young adults take when it comes to alcohol. Some people, who view that you should be able to drink when you are a legal adult, collect statistics about car accidents, deaths related to alcohol consumption, and binge drinking. Others who oppose this change in age collect similar data but there is a twist on the information that they receive.
When making decisions about laws, people have to consider all possible situations. Since not only lawmakers have involvement in this issue, they have to think about everyone who will be affected, whether it is people from the age of twenty-one or older or eighteen or older. In changing the minimum legal drinking age to eighteen, the lawmakers would be granting adults with the ideal of justice. Since they are adults, they would be given equal consideration and be treated purely as adults. Also, having faith in these young adults grants them with responsibility, forcing them to grow up more quickly while still in their late teenage years. By giving them responsibility, you have to consider the obligation of non-malficience, which is avoiding doing injury to others. If a young adult got into a car accident while under the influence of alcohol, it would be that person’s fault along with all of the alcohol they legally consumed.
While deciding whether to lower the minimum legal drinking age, you have to take into account that you do not have control over people. Instilling faith in our youth, we have to trust that they will make smart decisions. John McCardell, former president of Middlebury College, argues that if the MLDA was lowered to eighteen, that eighteen to twenty years olds could only drink if they completed forty-two hours of instruction of the history, chemistry, psychology and sociology of alcohol. This class would also teach the dangers of alcohol and what risks there are if someone drank an exceedingly high amount of alcohol. If a person eighteen or older took this class, they would earn a special license that would allow them to purchase and consume alcohol.
Fighting against McCardell, the Mother’s Against Drunk Driving Association says that “the sooner youth drink, the more likely they are to become alcohol dependent and to drive drunk” One way to control this would be to have this program also include sitting in on multiple Alcoholic Anonymous meetings. When deciding, lawmakers have to think about the ideals of maturity, potential, responsibility, fairness and prudence. Abigail Baird, Assistant Professor of Physiological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth College, studied nineteen brains of eighteen-year-old college students. These students moved 100 miles to go to college and lived without their families.
The control to this study was a group of seventeen twenty-five year olds. Professor Baird came to the conclusion that the twenty-five year old brain was more mature, especially in the regions of the brain known to integrate emotion and cognition, the areas that take information from our current body state and apply it for use in navigating the world. Maturity can range though. It is proven that brains mature at different times. Although there is not a test we can give to determine the maturity of someone, lawmakers have to instill trust and hope in young adults. The ideal of potential and prudence fit in with the fact that lawmakers can not single-handedly pick out who is mature enough to legally consume alcohol at the age of eighteen.
With more developed brains at twenty-one, the risk for drunk driving and making poor decisions while under the influence are lower. According to the Mother’s Against Drunk Driving Association, the MADD, an estimated twenty-three thousand lives have been saved from the elevated age of drinking since it the law was passed in 1984. Although it has saved lives, McCardell says that “(raising the drinking age to twenty-one) forced alcohol consumption behind the closed doors of dorms and fraternity basements. Always unsupervised, done in secret and too often excessive, this style of drinking has no doubt been responsibility for the alarming rise in rates of so called ‘binge’ drinking seen at colleges”
Looking further into McCardell’s statement, TIME magazine says that data does not show that binge drinking has gotten worse since states raised their drinking age. John Schulenberg of the University of Michigan and Jennifer Maggs of Penn State say, “During the past two decades, despite many social, demographic, political and economic changes…rates of frequent heavy drinking among those ages nineteen to twenty-two have shifted little.” Having the ideal of prudence, lawmakers have to take statistics under consideration. They have to choose the option of letting under-developed, eighteen year old minds be allowed to consume and purchase alcohol, or to keep the law at twenty-one and break the ideals of justice and fairness.
Having the legal drinking age of twenty-one breeds disrespect for law by having so many people break it, marginalizes the role of teaching about alcohol use and condescends the age of majority. When you turn eighteen in the United States, you can vote, enlist and fight in wars, sign contracts, marry, own businesses, serve in a jury and many other things. In most other cultures, alcohol consumption legally begins when you become a legal adult. According to the Institute of Medicine, ninety percent of alcohol consumed by eighteen to twenty years-olds is consumed when the person is involved in heavy drinking.
Having the legal drinking age of twenty-one forces young adult and teenage drinking behind closed doors without any supervision. This force comes from peer pressure, media and watching what people older than them do. Teenagers are attracted to the thrill, making them drink more and more. The consequences of binge drinking are scary and sometimes fatal. The consumption of alcohol by underage Americans is common. When young people consume alcohol, the fact that they are doing something illegal does not cross their mind. Since the law prohibits young adults from partaking in an activity that usually mark adulthood, it encourages violation and disrespect of the law.
According to Public Health Reports, two in every one thousand instances of underage drinking results in arrests. According to the Journal of American College Health, young adults who choose to illegally drink are drinking recklessly. This excessive consumption has resulted in binge drinking, putting young people at greater risk of alcohol poisoning, assault, sexual abuse, vandalism and alcohol related fatalities. During the Prohibition in 1920, the culture was bathtub gin, speakeasies and rumrunners. In the last ten years, these acts have been mirrored but with keg parties, beer pong and flip cup.
Having the legal drinking age remain at the age of twenty-one prevents adolescents from gaining access to alcohol, saves lives by preventing alcohol-related traffic fatalities from ages eighteen to twenty and protects adolescent and young adult brains from the negative consequences of alcohol. The results from the National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey say that early initiation to alcohol leads to long-term alcohol problems. With the law set at twenty-one, it prevents alcohol from getting into the hands of the younger population by making it illegal to consume, purchase and possess alcohol. Many high school students are protected from this possible damage because their eighteen-year-old friends cannot buy alcohol for them. According to the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, people that drink in their adolescent years are more likely to have alcohol abuse issues later in their life.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that that the number of drunk driving fatalities amongst eighteen to twenty one year olds has decreased by thirteen percent ever since the law has been raised to twenty-one. That decline over the past two and a half decades is from quite a few factors, including safer vehicles, increased public awareness of the danger of drunk driving, mandatory seat belt laws, lower BAC limits and the use of designated drivers, which is a term that did not exist before the drinking age was raised in 1984. Also, the adolescent brain is affected differently by alcohol than the brain of a twenty-one year old.
Having the drinking age of twenty-one will lead to a healthier population by not allowing adolescents to obtain it. The American Journal of Psychiatry scanned brains of young adolescents with alcohol abuse disorders and the brains of non-drinking peers. The study showed that the brains of young adolescents with alcohol abuse disorders show lower rates of activity during memory tasks and less developed brain structures than in their non-drinking peers. If the legal drinking age remains as it is now, America’s youth will be more protected.
An alternate solution to lowering the age to eighteen and keeping the age at twenty-one is to only allow eighteen-year-olds, who have completed an intensive class about alcohol, to purchase and consume alcohol. John McCardell, former president of Middlebury College, is a proponent of this idea. His thought was to have a test similar to a driving test. You would have to take a class and pass a test in order to have a specific license for purchasing and consuming alcohol.
The class would go over the history, chemistry, psychology and sociology of alcohol. It is also important that the young adults view people whose lives’ have been ruined because of alcohol. They could do this by attending Alcohol Anonymous meetings or going to visit rehabilitation centers and talk to people whose lives have been affected by alcohol. If eighteen-year-olds have this knowledge, then I think that they should be able to consume and purchase alcohol.
Another alternate solution is to lower the age of purchasing and consuming alcohol to twenty. Not as young as eighteen, and not as old as twenty-one, the brain is significantly more developed at the age of twenty than it is at the age of eighteen. The consequences of lowering it by one year are not as risky as lowering the age to eighteen. Although some people will still fight against it, I feel as though it is a good middle ground between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one.
A very high tech alternate solution is making all cars have an Ignition Interlock System. This device, installed in a cars dashboard, mandates that you breathe into a little slot before the car will turn on. Although the system is quite expensive, it is fool proof. After the engine starts, the device will require you to breathe in it again, just to make sure that a sober person did not breathe into the device for you. Currently used for people that have broken DUI laws, if these devices were put in all cars, it would be almost impossible for people to drive drunk. The only problem with the mechanism is that it would increase the value of cars by a great deal. Although it is expensive, installing an Ignition Interlock System in every car would prevent drunk driving.
When considering both sides of the argument, we have to look at the total picture. Voting on whether to make the MLDA eighteen or twenty-one shows a full view of what people want since everyone eighteen and older can vote. The vote would directly target people that would be affected no matter what the outcome was. The lawmakers have to consider their obligations to the nation, since all lawmakers were elected into their position. They also have to consider the consequences of the option that they are giving people. Putting young people in situations where it is legal to drink and maybe would not be able to control their actions and drive drunk, endangering people around them. This would endanger others, so when making a vote, people would not only have to consider an individual but everyone around them
After considering all of the information, the smartest choice for lawmakers is to keep the minimum legal drinking age at twenty-one. Although teenagers may still continue to break the law while purchasing and consuming alcohol, many high school students will be protected from legally purchasing and consuming because eighteen-year-old seniors will not be able to obtain alcohol. Also, the brain at the age of twenty-one is extremely more developed than the brain at eighteen.
If an eighteen-year-old legally drank and got in his/her car to drive home, that inexperienced driver would be putting everyone on the road into danger. Since an eighteen year old, who probably started driving at the age of sixteen, would get on the road without any supervision and also while under the influence of alcohol, the risk of endangering him/herself is extremely high. By keeping the motto “for the common good in mind” the best decision for lawmakers is to keep the minimum legal drinking age at twenty-one.
ABC News. Alcohol Laws: Should the Drinking Age be Lowered?. [Online]
The Harvard Crimson. Please Think Responsibly. [Online] Tuesday, September 16, 2008. http://thecrimson.com/article/2008/9/16/please-think-responsibly-it-certaintly-hasn’t/
TIME. Should the Drinking Age Be Lowered? [Online] Friday, June 06, 2008.
WSJ. College Presidents Stand Up for Common Sense? I’ll Drink to That. [Online] Friday, August 28, 2008. http://onlline.wsj.com/article/SB121996586419781419.html?mod=taste_primary_hs
American Medical Association. Facts About Youth and Alcohol. [Online] <http://www.ama-asn.org/ama/pub/physician-resources/public-health/p…ug-abuse/facts-about-youth-alcohol/minimum-legal-drinking-age.shtml>
Choose Responsibly. Legal Age 21. [Online] www.chooseresponsibly.org/
Dartmouth News. Brain Changes Significantly After Age 18, says Dartmouth Research. [Online] February 6, 2006. http://www.dartmouth.edu/~news/releases/2006/02/06.html
Wikipedia. Ignition Interlock Device. [Online] January 19, 2011. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ignition_interlock_device