Former United States senator Byron Dorgan once said, “Nowhere in this country should we have laws that permit drinking and driving or drinking in vehicles that are on American highways. This is not rocket science. We know how to prevent this, and thirty-six states do” (searchquotes.com). In 1984, Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act which raised the minimum drinking age from eighteen to twenty-one. The impetus behind this piece of legislation was reports which indicated a higher number of teenage car accidents in states that had lowered the minimum drinking age during the Vietnam War era (ProCon.org). There are many convincing reasons for why the national minimum drinking age should remain at twentyone. Contrary to adolescent belief, alcohol consumption is not a right secured by the United States Constitution (Guy).
It is not unconstitutional for states 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 reports by the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration which reflects that since 1982 there has been a sixty-two percent drop in alcoholrelated teenage driving fatalities (Trex). Lowering the minimum drinking age to eighteen would encourage the creation of more businesses such as bars to serve the additional sector of the population allowed to imbibe. Establishments such as 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 twenty-one, research has indicated that individuals less than twenty-one 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 (ProCon.org).
Alcohol is a known gateway drug which leads to increased propensity for users to graduate to stronger drugs like heroin and cocaine (alcoholrehab.com). Numerous European countries have a minimum drinking age which is substantially lower than the United States, and data 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 enactment, a minority of the population has made futile attempts to overturn it and lower the drinking age once again to eighteen. The minimum drinking age should remain at twenty-one because it reduces alcohol related abuses 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, an individual must be at least twenty-one years of age to “legally purchase a handgun, gamble in a casino (in most states), or adopt a child” and must be at least twenty-five in order to “rent a car (for most companies) or thirty-five to run for President” (Fell). These limits are necessary in terms of protecting society and nurturing 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 objective 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‟ criteria 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 twenty-one to eighteen because many rationalized that if eighteen-year-old individuals were responsible enough to vote, certainly they could drink alcohol. Because not all states reduced their minimum drinking ages to eighteen, oftentimes young teenagers would travel across state borders known as “blood borders” to obtain alcohol and consume it in a more permissive state and then drive fully intoxicated back to their state of origin. Inebriated teenagers would have to drive long distances to return home, which provided more chances for accidents to occur along their journey.
As a result, one of the tragic consequences of a lack of uniformity between states regarding the minimum legal drinking age was a spike in the number of traffic fatalities amongst eighteen to twenty-year-old drivers. This increase in teenage deaths birthed organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which promoted a minimum drinking age of twenty-one and uniformity between states‟ policies regarding minimum drinking age requirements (Trex). Finally, President Reagan instated the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 which encouraged states to increase their minimum drinking age to twenty-one by making their eligibility to have accessibility to federal highway funds dependent upon whether they raised their MLDA (ProCon.com).
The National Highway Traffic Administration estimates that “MLDA 21 decreased the number of fatal traffic accidents for eighteen to twenty-year-olds by thirteen percent and saved approximately 27,052 lives from 1975-2008” (nhtsa.dot.gov). Additionally, in a 2009 survey published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the results showed that “the percentage of weekend nighttime 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 lower drinking age and increased alcohol-related traffic fatalities.
Many drunk driving related traffic accidents occur between the intoxicated individual‟s home and the establishment which enabled them to become inebriated. Therefore, where is it that most people go to enjoy an ice cold beer or pomegranate margarita? They travel to a bar, nightclub, or pub to drink away from home. According to statistics, nearly fifty percent of drunk driving related accidents or manslaughter incidents occur after a perpetrator consumes alcohol at a licensed drinking establishment (Anglin). Most people agree that bars, pubs, 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 intoxicated patrons,” a figure which is staggering but reflects the lack of integrity prevalent amongst establishments of questionable repute. If the minimum drinking age is lowered, a larger section of the American public would gain admission to such establishments, thus contributing to growth of these specific types of businesses. Individuals who are incapacitated by alcohol intoxication tend to commit more violent crimes as well as misdemeanors. The criminal element in neighborhoods increases exponentially when mixed with high amounts of alcohol consumption by persons 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 have legislation which keeps the minimum drinking age higher not only reduces neighborhood crimes, but also traffic accidents, assaults, and deaths. Maintaining the minimum drinking age at twenty-one is not only healthy and life saving for the overall populace of the United States, but also has positive consequences for the individual and his or her physical wellbeing throughout all stages of life. Research shows that the human brain is still in the process of developing even into the later adolescent stages of life and that frequent alcohol usage significantly affects brain functionality, specifically learning, memory, and attention.
Contrary to the traditional belief that brain development during adolescence is just a transitory stage between childhood and adulthood, recent findings indicate that many of the changes that take place during the teenage years are unique to this stage of life and are not merely extensions of childhood development. Life experiences greatly influence the adolescent 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 individual would most likely be more mature than an eighteen-year-old individual because of his three year advantage over the other. There are many lifestyle adjustments which occur when young adults turn eighteen that make them more vulnerable to engaging in potentially harmful activities and substance abuse. Conversely, twentyone-year-olds have already settled into a routine of responsibilities and independence making them less likely to engage in foolish and immature decision-making (ProCon.org). Eighteenyear-olds do not have the maturity and life experience to drink responsibly (ProCon.org). The pressures of everyday adult life can be daunting to eighteen-year-olds who are just exiting the safety of their parents‟ home. Pressures oftentimes lead to abuse of not only alcohol, but also other mind numbing drugs.
In the United States, alcohol is considered a gateway drug, a habit which leads to increased propensity 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 fifteen were 101 times more likely to use cocaine than someone who abstained from alcohol” (alcoholrehab.com). As a result of these findings, if the drinking age is lowered from twenty-one to eighteen, it is reasonable to expect that illicit drug use would also expand amongst teenagers (O‟Malley).
Scientific studies suggest that the earlier in life an individual consumes his first alcoholic beverage, the higher the risk that he will eventually develop severe alcohol disorders and abuse alcohol later in life. According to findings in a study by David J. DeWit, Ph.D., “A potentially powerful predictor of progression to alcohol-related harm is age at first use.” In a recent study published by 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 purchase alcohol before age twenty-one was associated with more frequent binge drinking” (Dryden). In other words, lower drinking ages correlate with higher predispositions 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 twenty-one carry over into adult life, preventing harms to adult alcohol consumers and other people” (Science Daily). It has been proven that since 1984 when the majority of states complied with the raise in the minimum drinking age to twenty-one that the overall percentage of underage drinkers diminished substantially (Fell). Additionally, according to a 2002 study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol, eightyseven percent of these investigations discovered a direct correlation between lower alcohol consumption and higher minimum legal drinking ages (Wagenaar). There is no doubt that consuming alcoholic beverages below the age of eighteen has been shown scientifically 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 adolescents 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 intoxication rates among young people than do youth from the United States and about one third of the countries have equal or lower rates to the United States.”
Therefore, in actuality, European teenagers have just as many, if not more, problems with alcohol abuse than adolescents 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 intoxication before the age of thirteen. Therefore, there is no reason for the United States to abandon legislation keeping a higher minimum drinking age limit or to instate courses which educate and promote responsible drinking to adolescents (Friese).
In conclusion, there has always been strong public support for a minimum limit drinking age of twenty-one. 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 consequences 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 propensity towards developing alcohol dependence and abuse even decades after initial use, graduate to using other illicit drugs which are more addictive and harmful, commit crimes, and tend to be involved in alcohol related traffic fatalities (DeWit).
Eighteen-year-olds do not have the maturity to drink responsibly, particularly when they are in the middle of transitory phases of life which are very complicated and difficult (ProCon.com). The increased number of individuals eligible to consume alcohol would increase the number of bars, nightclubs, 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 fatalities amongst teenage drivers. Once the 1984 National Minimum Drinking Age Act raised the minimum drinking age, the number of teenage fatalities diminished substantially, and many deaths have been avoided (nhtsa.dot.gov).
Even though eighteen-year-olds have been given the right to vote, it does not mean they conclusively can make informed decisions about alcohol consumption. 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 nations 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 adulthood. However, the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs admits that intoxication rates for adolescents 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 twenty-one to eighteen in the United States now or in the future.
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