Huge Debate Worldwide: Minimum Legal Drinking Age

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In all 50 states, the minimum legal drinking age is 21 years old. However, some exceptions do exist on a state-by-state basis for consumption at home, under adult supervision, for medical necessities, and other reasons. After all, if 18 years olds can serve our country, buy tobacco products and legally be considered an adult, then why can’t they buy and consume alcohol? The drinking age of 21 years old has not stopped teen drinking, but instead, has progressively increased it.

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Internationally, the average age at which drinking alcohol first occurs is 12 years old. About 80% of young people begin drinking alcoholic beverages regularly at age 15 or younger. That’s according to the World Health Organization (WHO) (Hanson).

In today’s society, lowering the drinking age to 18 years old would help young adults to have more accountability for their actions and make better decisions.

Let’s begin with why the legal drinking age should be lowered. As stated before, if 18 year olds can serve our country, vote, buy tobacco products, and legally become an adult, then why can’t they purchase and consume alcohol? 18 is the age of adulthood in the United States, and adults should have the right to make their own decisions about alcohol consumption. You are always hearing about underage drinking; especially college and high school parties. Over 60 percent of high school seniors already drink once a week according to the University of Iowa Health Care. Congress should lower the drinking age because it will allow for teens to become educated through experience on how to drink responsibly (Gilchrist). In 2008 a group of university and college presidents expressed their discontent with the minimum legal drinking age of 21 years by signing on to the Amethyst Initiative, a much publicized advocacy effort to encourage public debate about lowering the drinking age. This group of college presidents, and their partner organization, Choose Responsibility, propose reducing the minimum legal drinking age to 18 years. This policy change is a central feature of a campaign its organizers contend will help young adults aged 18 to 20 years make healthy decisions about alcohol and lead to reductions in drinking and its negative effects (Wechsler). In Alaska, a bill was recently introduced that would allow active members of the military to drink at the age of 18, with the rationale that if they’re old enough to fight and die for their country, they’re old enough to have a beer (Ogilvie). Although alcohol could limit the development process of the brain, drinking at a younger age would encourage society to educate teenagers about alcohol instead of brushing it under the rug. Young drinkers could become more mature with alcohol and more aware of the consequences of their actions (Gilchrist).

The enforcement of minimum legal drinking ages also varies widely between countries and often within countries. If other countries such as Austria, Germany, and the Netherlands have 18 as their minimum legal drinking age, then why can’t the United States? Some countries, such as Italy and Germany, even have their drinking age as 16. In Austria, the alcohol laws vary by state. Three of the states have an age minimum of 16 while six states have a minimum age of 18.

In Germany and the Netherlands, on and off-premise drinking age minimum is 16 years old for beer and wine, and 18 years old for spirits. These are only just a few countries whose legal drinking age is 16-18, however, there are many more.

Even though there are many reasons as to why the minimum legal drinking age should be lowered, there are also many reasons as to why it shouldn’t be. Drinking and driving is strongly correlated with youth. In 2010 the highest drunk driving rates were found amongst those ages 21 to 25 (23.4%), and 18 to 20 (15.1%). After age 25, the drunk driving rates decrease (Nagin). The prevalence of binge drinking, particularly on college campuses, strongly increases. According to The Center For Science In The Public Interest, “”44% of students attending 4-year colleges drink alcohol at the binge level or greater.”” What is more, as many as 30,000 college students need medical treatment each year to cope with alcohol poisoning. Fox News reports that 157 college-age individuals (ages 18 to 23) drank themselves to death from 1999 through 2005 (Nagin). Research has shown that the harmful effects of alcohol abuse are magnified on a teenager’s still-developing brain. The adolescent brain is a work in progress, marked by significant development in areas of the brain responsible for learning, memory, complex thinking, planning, inhibition, and emotional regulation. The neurotoxic effect of excessive alcohol use is a danger to these key regions of the maturing adolescent brain (Mooney). A person’s brain does not stop developing until around their mid-20s. During this time, alcohol negatively affects parts of the brain such as cognitive and decision making functions as well as coordination and memory. Adolescent drinkers are at greater risk for social problems such as depression, violence, and even suicidal thoughts (Mooney).

In conclusion, the argument of lowering the minimum legal drinking age has become a huge debate worldwide. Although, it could have negative effects, lowering the drinking age to 18 years old would help young adults to have more accountability for their actions and make better decisions.

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