Those who supported the change for the 2009 re-authorization of the law (dubbed Pro 18), and those who wanted the law to remain at the current age of 21 (dubbed Pro 21), had three major categories to explore for this debate: safety, binge drinking and maturity. There is opposition and support on both sides of the issue including a coalition founded in 2008 by a group of academic leaders called the Amethyst Initiative who support lowering the drinking age to 18.
In 1984, after Candy Lightner suffered the loss of her daughter at the hands of a drunk driver in 1980, she created Mothers Against Drunk Driving (M. A. D. D. ) She lobbied for a new law to set a minimum drinking age of 21 in the hopes that it would help stop underage drinking. The National Minimum Drinking Age Act was passed and most states adopted it immediately to avoid a 10 percent reduction in federal funding for their state highways. According to a 2010 national survey by the U. S.
Department of Health and Human Services, “among young adults aged 18 to 25 in 2010, the rate of binge drinking was 40. 6 percent” (Office of Applied Science). According to the findings, this was similar to the numbers for 2009. On a whole, drinking rates have slowly dropped for underage drinkers since the introduction of the Age Law. Despite the drop, independent studies showed that underage drinkers still “make up 10 percent, or $10 billion annually,” of the $115 billion alcohol industry in the United States alone (Witmer).
One of the main issues, safety, centers on driving accidents while under the influence of alcohol. This has been studied in other countries as well. According to Sanghavi, when “New Zealand lowered the drinking age from 20 to 18…[alcohol related crashes] declined far less than in the overall population” (Sanghavi). In addition, the National Youth Rights Association feels that “through education, gradual entry, and a relaxing of strict no-use policy towards youth will make drinking safer for people of all ages” (http://www. youthrights. rg).
On the other hand, after the age law was enacted in the United States, Sangahvi notes “fatal car crashes involving young adults dipped 32 percent” (Sangahvi). This statistic is supported by a survey from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that showed “raising the drinking age to 21 cut traffic fatalities for 18- to 21- year-old drivers by 13 percent” (Binge Drinking Needs to Be Reform Focus). The Erie Times-News goes on to echo this sentiment by stating “there must be no letup in efforts to curb drunken driving.
While it may have been acceptable years ago to drive under the influence, motorists of all ages are certainly aware that doing so now risks injury, arrest and jail time” (Binge Drinking Needs to Be Reform Focus). One of the most concerning factors over alcohol consumption in young adults is binge drinking. Binge drinking is defined in the dictionary as: “the practice of drinking excessive amounts of alcohol regularly” (Dictionary). According to Chris Alexander; “because the legal drinking age is 21 it promotes binge drinking…forces underage drinkers to drink [irresponsibly]” (Alexander).
Sangahvi notes in his article “lowering the legal drinking age can promote more responsible alcohol use” (Sangahvi). Certain academic circles feel “kids over 18 [could be allowed] to buy alcohol after a course on its history…as well as exposure to accident victims…” (Amethyst Initiative in Sangahvi). The Pro 21 side feels much differently on the binge drinking subject, however. An article in the Erie Times-News notes a 2005 study performed by Harvard showing “alcohol is a factor in the deaths of 1,400 college students each year” (Binge Drinking Needs to Be Reform Focus).
In fact, young adults ages 18 to 22 who don’t go to college drink less than those who do” says Witmer (Witmer). Ms. Witmer goes on to support her argument with some staggering numbers among which are “12 million undergraduates drink 4 billion cans of beer…a year” (Witmer). Sangahvi cites reasons other than the 21 year age law that contribute to binge drinking such as “weak state and campus alcohol control policies…and the presence of lots of bingeing older adults” (Sangahvi). In Sangahvi’s article, a notation from David Rosenbloom f the Institute of Medicine concluded “that higher taxes reduce alcohol abuse and related harm to young adults” and notes “the five states with the highest beer taxes have half the binge drinking [rates] of other states” (Rosenbloom in Sangahvi).
The last major part of this debate is maturity. How old is old enough? Sangahvi mentions the thing most people think first, “singling out alcohol to make it off-limits is odd, since 18-year-olds may legally join the military, vote, buy cigarettes.. (Sangahvi). Chris Alexander says “This [age 18] marks the time when children become legally responsible for their actions in American society. This is when they are considered adults” (Alexander). The National Youth Rights Association addresses the developmental aspect of the argument by saying “Your body and mind improve all through-out life. A 21 year old is different from an 18 year old, just as a 41 year old is different from a 38 year old.
Youth Prohibition activists ignore the fact that maturity is a gradual but uneven process that continues throughout life and is not complete on one’s twenty-first birthday” (http://www. youthrights. org). The Amethyst Initiative supports this part of the argument on their website by stating “that 21 is not working as well as the public may think, that its unintended consequences are posing increasing risks to young people, and that it is time for a serious debate among our elected representatives about whether current public policies are in line with current realities” (Amethyst Initiative).
A review from the Institute of Medicine disagrees saying “countries with lower drinking ages are not better off than the United States in terms of the harmful consequences of [underage] drinking” (Institute of Medicine in Sangahvi). Along the biological aspect, Witmer notes “in 1995, 318 people ages 15 to 24 died from alcohol poisoning alone, many of them after a night of drinking at college” (Witmer). Alexander says “what needs to be examined is not the arbitrary age or mythical maturity level [but] at what age is someone mature enough to be able to alter their consciousness and still be able to make good decisions” (Alexander).
Personally, I feel that the age should stay intact at 21. There is no magic maturity age. Every person is different and not only mentally matures at their own pace but physically too, which can also affect how a person will handle drinking. Granted, it doesn’t make sense why people can do all those other things at 18 and not drink until 21, but there are a lot of laws that don’t quite make sense. I think the evidence supports the benefits of the age limitation.
I do think the schools should be allowed to teach responsible drinking because, unfortunately, they (kids) will find a way if they really want to do it. Being raised during my teen years in an alcoholic household has biased my opinion on drinking as a whole. I’ve seen the destruction it can cause to mind, body and soul and if something as small as an age limit on when kids can legally purchase alcohol can help stop some possible tragedies, then I say leave it alone.
I especially liked a statement in Chris Alexander’s article “Until the scientific or societal cause is determined [for why people drink] nothing will really be solved at all” (Alexander). In conclusion, the drinking age law was enacted to help protect one of our country’s most valuable resources and despite the debate over what age should be legal, the fact remains that alcohol can be dangerous and its use should be in moderation and responsibly no matter how old a person is.
Courtney from Study Moose
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