Under the 1984 National Minimum Drinking Age Act [23 U.S.C 158], persons under 21 years of age are prohibited from purchasing alcohol in all 50 U.S. states. Although there are exceptions in certain states when alcohol is consumed at home, under adult supervision, and for medical purposes, the drinking age still stands.
There are moves to lower the drinking age, however. Many proponents think 18 is a good number, considering that teenagers at this age are practically considered adults. In fact, they think it is hilarious that an 18 year old can marry, vote, join the military or buy guns, but can’t buy or drink alcohol, which is probably the easiest thing anyone can do, as opposed to getting married and choosing the next president. Well, they should be happy now that the rule has been amended, since the law to lower legal drinking age to 18, which was signed by President Obama, has taken effect last June 4, 2015.
But people are divided with this move, with a majority of them saying there are serious consequences whether it is lowered or raised. So, which is it really?
List of Pros of Lowering the Drinking Age
1. Welcome adulthood with a shot of tequila.
In the U.S., 18 is the age of adulthood, which means that a teenager who reaches this age will receive rights and responsibilities suitable for their age. They now have the right to vote, serve jury duties, sign contracts, smoke cigarettes, get married, and even prosecuted as an adult. So why not have the right to purchase and drink alcohol? With the drinking age changed to 18, they can be an adult in every sense of the word, which calls for a celebration.
Turning 18 would also mean teenagers now have the rights and responsibilities to take care or risk their own life. The choice is really up to them.
2. Reduce the risk of drinking in dangerous settings.
According to Dwight B. Heath, an anthropology professor in Brown University, banning alcohol until age 21 creates something of the “forbidden fruit syndrome”. It causes younger people to crave it even more, prompting them to enjoy it in more dangerous environments, such as fraternity houses. But, if they start drinking at a younger age, the safer they will be. The sooner they would also realize that “alcohol has no mystique. It’s no big deal”.
Drinking alcohol in regulated environments and with supervision would also reduce the risk of unsafe drinking behavior and activities.
3. Fewer drunk driving accidents.
While the United States increased the minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) to 21, other countries maintained it at 18. When it was time to compare the drunk driving traffic accidents and fatalities, countries with a lower drinking age also has lower traffic accidents than the U.S.
There was a period, however, when such fatalities decreased. But because it happened before an MLDA was established by the Uniform Drinking Age Act, the decrease cannot be attributed to the drinking age of 21.
4. Reduce the thrill of violating the law.
Remember the ‘forbidden fruit syndrome’? If people aged 18 years old are allowed to consume alcohol legally, they would not consider breaking the law just to get their way, or even try to prove a point. This may cause a problem with younger people aged below 18, but that is another story.
This can also lower the high rate of non-compliance with MLDA 21, where teenagers tend to get creative, procuring fake IDs and deliberately disrespecting the law.
List of Cons of Lowering the Drinking Age
1. Health repercussions.
An MLDA of 18 is widely considered medically irresponsible. Alcohol consumption at an early age can result in various health problems, what with the substance interfering with a young adult’s brain development. As it happens, the brain’s frontal lobe of an 18-year old is still developing and interference from alcohol increases the risk of depression, memory loss, reduced decision-making capacity, and risk-taking behavior, such as addiction, suicide and violence.
2. Comes at serious costs.
What are the guarantees that an 18-year old will drink and act responsibly under the influence of alcohol? The reason that a lower MLDA is unpopular among young adults is that it increases the risk of unwanted pregnancy and, eventually, infant health. It can also lead to more violent and nuisance crimes, which tend to start earlier but lasts longer. And, let’s not forget, higher traffic fatalities.
3. Statistically incorrect.
It is understandable that the U.S. would want to mirror the drinking age of 18 in European countries because of the lower drunk driving fatalities. Where the rate of drinking teenagers is concerned, however, MLDA 18 is statistically incorrect. This is because the rates of intoxication or binge drinking in adolescents in the U.S. are lower than in Europe. Also, there are more young people at the age of 13, in Europe, who are already binge drinking, which is why it is only right that the drinking age is lowered in these places.
4. Give easier access to alcohol.
With the drinking age lowered from 21 to 18, students in middle school and high school will have easy access to alcohol. Surveys show that teenagers who are newly legal drinkers have a high tendency to buy alcohol for their underage friends or peers. This can be attributed to the fact that they now have a privilege that younger people don’t, creating the so-called trickle-down effect. When the drinking age was 21, young adults age 21 to 24 are the source of alcohol by those aged 18 to 20. So imagine where the distribution leads when MLDA is at 18.
5. Increase risk of irresponsible drinking.
Those who oppose to lower the drinking age strongly believe that people at 18 are not yet fully mature and responsible, which is why MLDA should stay at 21, an age where experience has already helped shape an individual. At 18, young people are still entering a new phase, enjoying new privileges, making them susceptible to a lot of things, including binge drinking.
There are pros and cons when MLDA was at 21, it still has pros and cons now that it is at 18. Whichever is the case, understanding the advantages and disadvantages is key to making the right decision.