In the United States, the legal drinking age for all fifty states and the District of Columbia is twenty-one. The drinking age is twenty-one because the government decided this is when a person becomes legally responsible to handle the repercussions of consuming alcohol. The U.S. has the highest legal drinking age in the world. Only four countries in the world have a legal drinking age over eighteen, making the US an exception rather than the rule.
Some people may argue that the government should lower the drinking age since you legally become an adult at age eighteen, but I completely understand this law and am totally for it. Underage drinking has become an epidemic that has spread all over the world, but more so in the United States than any other country. This is disturbing because the brain is not fully developed until a person is around twenty-two years of age. Therefore, it should be harder for minors to obtain alcohol, and the legal drinking age should not be lowered. What is alcohol, and where did it come from?
Alcohol is a natural substance formed by the reaction of fermenting sugar with yeast. The production of alcohol started about 10,000 years ago. It all started around the Black and Caspian Seas with wine, and slowly made its way around the surrounding areas. Mesopotamia and Egypt were thriving with wine productions by 3,000 B.C. (Narconon). A thousand years later, a Roman God, Dionysus, started appearing in the literature, and was the god of the grape harvest. Then, about 700 years after that, in addition to wine, India started manufacturing beer.
This new production spread rapidly, and the Hebrews adopted the new beverage for many different new medicines. After that, the Jews began to use wine and beer in sacred rituals and ceremonies. Although some cultures accepted alcohol, others rejected it completely. Because these alcoholic beverages were spreading so quickly, they raised curiosity. A medical school in Italy began doing experiments, and finally developed something called distillation- a purer, stronger alcohol (Narconon). From Italy, these new drinks spread to England and Scotland, and eventually found their way over to America. Drunkenness became a huge problem in America, so the government passed the Prohibition Act of 1920. Originally, the eighteenth amendment to the U.S.
Constitution prohibited the manufacture, sale, transport, import, or export of all alcoholic beverages. Upon its ratification by the states, Congress voted its approval in 1919.
Thus the law was passed, and became known as the National Prohibition Act of 1920 (American Medical Association). The eighteenth amendment was repealed in 1933, which made the Prohibition Act null and unenforceable. After prohibition, most states restricted the minimum legal drinking age to twenty-one. Between 1970 and 1975, twenty-nine states lowered the minimum legal drinking age to eighteen, nineteen, or twenty.
These changes were made when other activities, such as voting, were lowered. In between September 1976 and January 1983, the minimum legal drinking age for every state was set at the age of twenty-one. Although this is the law in our country, it is also incredibly easy for minors to obtain alcohol. As always, there are different ways to work around the law. These are issues that must be addressed. Some of these ways include a fake I.D., a minor giving someone money to go buy it for them, going somewhere that will sell to minors, or even stealing it from their parents liquor cabinet. A fake I.D is fairly cheap and also easy to get if you know the right people. For the most part, if you were a minor trying to get alcohol you could go up to any random person, and eight times out of ten that person would go buy it for you. There are also places minors could go to buy it themselves like little gas stations around the lower socioeconomic societies.
The reason that these gas stations will sell to minors is because it increases their sales, and because they will get little penalty for selling to minors. If they do get fined for it, the fine isn’t enough to make them stop. Alcohol generally is not secured in most homes so there is easy access for minors who have no fears about taking it from their parents. There has also been the increasing trend of parents not only providing alcohol, but encouraging its use in the home, under the assumption that minors will do it anyway and it’s better to do so in a supervised, safe environment. Underage drinking is one of the biggest problems that the U.S. faces, and is now considered a public health problem. Young adults have the highest prevalence of alcohol consumption than any other age group (Century Council).
They also drink more heavily, experience more negative consequences, and engage in more harmful activities. Drinking at any age can have some of the worst effects on you and the people around you. Many young teens that experiment with alcohol believe there are no consequences to their actions. It is actually quite the opposite. Alcohol is associated with driving under the influence, violence and aggressiveness, sexual activity, smoking, and poor school performance.
There are all of these problems, and then some that all started with alcohol. Driving under the influence or a DUI is classified under two categories, and can be given out if the person is under the influence of an intoxicating drink or a combination of an alcoholic beverage and drugs. There are felonies and misdemeanors. The difference between a misdemeanor and a felony is misdemeanor DUI charges means that the charge involved no injury or property damage, and the penalty can be up to 6 months in jail. A felony has injury and/or property damage, and the penalty could be up to three years in a state prison.
This number fluctuates depending on the number of misdemeanors or felonies a person has had in the past. These laws are in place to not only protect the youth in America, but to also ensure that other innocent people on the roads do not get hurt. There are plenty of accidents that come from texting and driving already (which is the equivalent to drinking and driving) that to lower the drinking age, I think, would cause more alcohol-induced accidents.
Underage drinking already contributes to more than 4,700 automobile wrecks a year (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), and studies have shown that every twenty-two minutes someone will die of an alcohol related traffic accident (First Eagle Insurance Services). Although you probably think that it could never happen to you, other studies have shown that everyone has a forty percent chance of being in an accident involving alcohol use at some point in their life (Drug Free World).
“Vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of death for minors age 15-20 years old” (Century Council). Aside from drinking and driving, there is also a two-way association between alcohol consumption and violence or aggressiveness. While individual behavior is shaped in large part by the environment, it is also manipulated by biological factors, and ultimately directed by the brain, but the brain is affected if large amounts of alcohol are consumed. The consumption of alcohol may promote aggressiveness and lead to victimization, which in turn leads to excessive consumption of alcohol.
Violence and aggressive behaviors are those that are threatening, hostile, or damaging in a physical or nonphysical way. There have been multiple studies conducted that show there is a link between violent crimes and alcohol consumption. In 2012, the percentages of violent offenders who were drinking at the time of the offense were: “eighty-six percent of homicide offenders, thirty-seven percent of assault offenders, sixty percent of sexual offenders, up to fifty-seven percent of men, and twenty-seven percent of women involved in marital violence, and thirteen percent of child abusers” (NIAAA). A lot of times alcohol is accompanied by cigarettes, marijuana, or other hardcore drugs. Many researchers hypothesize that the ethanol in alcohol triggers a feeling of pleasure, and those feelings are reinforced when nicotine is added to the mix. Others think that those who abuse one substance will be more inclined to abuse other substances.
Nicotine lowers blood alcohol concentration, so therefore a person who is smoking and drinking simultaneously would have to consume more alcohol in order to reach intoxication. Most people react differently to alcohol than others do. A lot of this has to do with the person’s age, gender, race/ethnicity, physical condition (weight, fitness level etc.), amount of food consumed before drinking, use of drugs/prescription medications, and family history of alcohol problems. Usually when there is a family history of alcohol problems you will often see a history of some other type of disease linked to it. Some of these include: breast cancer, oral cancer, heart disease, strokes, diabetes, and cirrhosis of the liver. Twenty percent of alcohol is absorbed directly through the stomach walls into the bloodstream, and reaches all organs and tissues of the body within moments. The other eighty percent is processed through the gastrointestinal system.
It is considered a drug, and is a sedative depressant of the central nervous system (Reeves). Alcohol can damage the dendrites at the end of a nerve cell causing disorder to brain functions. It is also capable of rupturing blood capillaries and veins. Aside from damaging nerves and veins, it can also damage the liver. It stops the liver’s ability to process fats, and can cause disease. The high sugar content in some alcoholic or mixed beverages can lead to hypoglycemia and predispose one to diabetes. Alcohol can also alter sleep patterns, basic motor functions, thoughts, and emotions.
The consumption of alcohol on or at an above average rate can lead to alcoholism. Women metabolize alcohol more slowly than men. Because it stays in a woman’s bloodstream longer, it can cause more cellular damage of the kind that can trigger cancer. Alcohol also influences blood levels of estrogen and other hormones in ways that may make cancer more likely. For example, “compared to women who don’t drink at all, women who have three alcoholic drinks per week have a 15% higher risk of breast cancer. Experts estimate that the risk of breast cancer goes up another 10% for each additional drink women regularly have each day. Girls ages 9-15 who have 3-5 drinks a week have 3 times the risk of developing benign breast lumps”(Breastcancer.org). These benign breast lumps can be a precursor to breast cancer.
From this it is easy to see that the younger that someone starts consuming alcohol, the increased risk of cancer and loss of life is more likely. It might be easy to dismiss this issue as one of personal choice or preference. This discounts the social impact of drinking on society. “Alcohol costs American employers an estimated $134 billion in productivity losses, mostly due to missed work” (Ensuring solutions.org). The impact is not only economical though. Missed work impacts every worker at a job who must work that much harder to accomplish their work tasks. It also can decrease teamwork and morale due to resentment from the missed time at work, therefore decreasing productivity as well. Additionally, alcohol impacts every workers paycheck in other ways.
As a rule, workers in America pay taxes on their pay as part of the social contract. These taxes are used for a variety of federal projects, such as ensuring a strong infrastructure, including maintenance of our highway system. “Alcohol related crashes costs the public $114.3 billion annually” (MAAD). This is money that could be spent improving our roadways, bridges, and mass transit systems. This would also address shortfalls in other areas of the government budget, such as possibly addressing the furlough of air traffic controllers due to the current sequester.
Not only is alcohol affecting society in terms of road safety, it is impacting air safety too. These quotes and statistics are not specifically for underage drinkers but as a sampling of society as a whole we can see that if adults are unable to drink heavily and prolonged without negative effects the same should be true of minors who have not yet developed full brain capacity and critical thinking skills. It is not just physical and social effects that are felt by people who overuse or abuse alcohol. “Among high school students, those who use alcohol are five times more likely to drop out than those who don’t use alcohol.
Alcohol is implicated in more than 40 percent of all college academic problems and in 28 percent of all college dropouts” (Alcoholcostcalculator.org). This has a ripple effect. High school and college dropouts on average earn less than those with secondary and post secondary degrees. This not only impacts the immediate quality of life it has long term effects reaching into retirement. Social Security is based on lifetime earned income. With the reduced earning potential of not having a diploma or degree underage drinkers set themselves up for living on a fixed income once they become old or infirm. This is not the only economic impact. A quick look at Rehabilitation Centers shows price ranges from $2,000-$30,000 for a 28 day stay. This does not include continuing aftercare.
There are also legal fees for DUIs or Public Intoxication citations, plus bar tabs prior to the cessation of drinking. “Out of every $100 American consumers spend, about $1 goes to alcohol” (Vo). The average household income is around $50,000 per year, meaning that on average $500 a year is spent on alcohol, for an approximate lifetime average of $35,000. “In 2007 the death toll from teen drunk driving accidents was 1,393” (Drug Free World). The economic impact of funeral expenses, which on average total around $6,000, is nothing in terms of emotional cost. Many parents who lose a child end up divorcing, tearing apart families in the process. This may also lead to alcohol or other drug abuse in the parents or siblings, resulting in further economic, social, and societal impacts.
It’s a vicious cycle and one that could be avoided by continuing to keep the drinking age at the current level. There are numerous warning signs that a minor may have an issue with underage drinking and it is important for those involved in the minor’s life to recognize these to curb an issue before it begins. These include physical, emotional, family, school, and social problems. Parents, teachers, and friends should look for physical signs such as fatigue, red and glazed eyes, or a lasting cough. Emotional indicators include personality changes, sudden mood changes, irritability, irresponsible behavior, low self esteem, poor judgment, and depression. The minor may start more arguments, break more rules and withdraw from their family.
There will be a decreased interest in school, drop in grades, increased absences, truancy, and a rise in discipline issues. The minor may show a big social change, with new friends, a change in style of dress, and possible problems with the law. This list is not exhaustive, but from the examples given it shows that underage drinkers have a wealth of issues that will affect them negatively for quite some time. With all of this in mind, I do not feel that lowering the legal drinking age would be in our county’s
The government has these laws in place to keep our country and the people in it safe, and if these laws were to change it would send our country into a downward spiral. I feel that the rates of alcohol induced traffic accidents, rates of violent crimes related to alcohol, rates of certain types of diseases, and much more would upsurge drastically. I also feel that if our government doesn’t address these issues with more force and power, minors will keep doing what they have been doing and nothing will change.
“Alcohol Alert.” www.pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa38.htm. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). N.d. Web. 25 April 2013. “Drinking Alcohol.” www.breatscancer.org. 18 January 2013. Web. 4 May 2013. “Drunk Driving in America.” www.maad.org/media-center. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MAAD). N.d. Web. 25 March 2013. “Ensuring Solutions to Alcohol Problems.” www.ensuringsolutions.org. N.d. Web. 4 May 2013. “Minimum Legal Drinking Age.” www.cdc.gov/alcohol/facts-sheets/mlda.htm. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 7 November 2012. Web. 19 March 2013.
Minimum Legal Drinking Age: Brief History.” www.ama-assn.org. American Medical Association (AMA). N.d. Web. 19 March 2013. Narconon Drug Information Department, ed. “Alcohol History.” www.narconon.org/drug-information/alcohol-history. Narcanon International. N.d. Web. 25 March 2013. “Problems at School.” www.alcoholcostcalculator.org. Ensuring Solutions to Alcohol Problems. N.d. Web. 4 May 2013. Reeves, Pat. “What Alcohol Does to Your Body.” www.foodalive.org/articles/alcohol.htm. Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). N.d. Web. 23 March 2013. “Teenage Drunk Driving.” www.firsteagle.com/tdd.htm. The First Eagle Insurance Services. N.d. Web. 22 April 2013. Vo, L.T. “What American Spends on Booze.” www.npr.org. National Public Radio. 2013. Web. 4 May 2013.