The current minimum legal drinking age in the United States is 21, and it has been since July 17th, 1984. President Ronald Reagan, on this day, signed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which set the minimum legal drinking age at 21 years old. Raising the minimum legal drinking age to 21 has proven to save lives, and has reduced negative effects on people who consume alcohol legally.
According to The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, since the minimum legal drinking age was raised from 18 to 21 in 1984, the number of accidents involving underage drinkers has decreased by 20%.
Also, increasing the minimum legal drinking age to 21 has saved the lives of approximately 27,000 individuals ages 18-20. About 5,000 people under the age of 21 die each year just because of accidents related to the consumption of alcohol. 1,600 of those 5,000 are from homicides involving alcohol, and about 190,000 individuals who are younger than 21 years old were placed in the emergency room in 2008 due to alcohol-related accidents.
There are many negative effects of consuming alcohol before reaching the legal drinking age.
First, the human brain is not fully developed until a person reaches their early to mid-twenties. Therefore, drinking at an early age can be detrimental to the growth and development of the brain. Alcohol consumption directly affects a part of your brain called the cerebellum, where the spine meets the brain. The cerebellum controls motor skills, balance, and other complex motions of the body. Those who drink underage, before their brain has fully developed, will receive negative, permanent effects in their brains.
Drinking before age 21 also means that you are more likely to become depressed, violent, and/or suicidal. About one out of three suicides made by individuals ages 18-24 are linked to alcohol abuse. Alcohol, a depressant, when consumed during the process of brain growth, magnifies this negative effect. “Research indicates that the human brain continues to develop into a person’s early twenties and that exposure of the developing brain to alcohol may have long-lasting effects on intellectual capabilities,” said brain expert Dr. David J Hanson.
People who drink before they are 21 years old are also more likely to have unprotected sex, multiple sexual partners, receive a DUI, and take other risks they normally wouldn’t when sober. Having unprotected sex and multiple sexual partners also results in many unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases among young people, just because they were prompted by alcohol consumption to take a risk.
On the other hand, alcohol can be beneficial to teens because they use it as an escape and to dull the pains of everyday life or family troubles. It helps these teens feel oblivious to the pain and free of worry. The life of a teenager can take an emotional toll on them, sometimes causing depression, violence, and even suicide. Therefore, when teens are unhappy and are unable to find a healthy outlet for their frustration and problems, they will turn to alcohol for consolation.
Teens also enjoy risk-taking. Risk-taking is something teenagers will frequently do because they are prompted by alcohol, and their brains have not been fully developed yet. These teens associate drinking alcohol by taking a risk and seeking out new situations, which is a thrill for them. The experiences a teenager has with alcohol will also determine whether or not they will choose to consume it in the future. If a young person thinks that drinking alcohol will help them relax and calm down, they are more likely to drink than those with negative expectancies about alcohol. Before age nine, most kids think negatively of alcohol, because they believe it is something that can hurt you and become detrimental to your health, which is very true. However, during the developmental timeline of a teenager, those expectancies change to how consuming alcohol can be a positive thing.
It is essential that the legal drinking age in the United States be kept at 21 years old. This will help decrease the amount of fatal, alcohol-related accidents, and prevent unprotected sex, depression, violence, suicide, and the interruption of brain development in adolescents. Parents should be responsible and try their best to prevent their teens from drinking underage illegally. When adolescents are developing into teenagers and cultural and social factors are strongly influencing their behaviors, that is the best time for the parents to intervene. In order to prevent the negative effects of alcohol consumption, it is in our country’s best interest to keep the minimum legal drinking age at 21 years old.