Fifty states of the US have set the minimum drinking age to be 21. However, exceptions in 40 states apply. Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Arkansas, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Virginia are the only states that have no exceptions in their drinking laws. In these states, minors (those below 21) are strictly not allowed to drink by the law!
Exceptions- for the minimum drinking age are applicable in the other states, not mentioned above, under the following circumstances:
On private, non-alcohol selling premises, with parental consent. Private properties are defined by; private homes, private offices or property with parental presence and consent. The exception is applicable in 29 states. On private, non-alcohol premises, without parental consent. Applies in six states; Louisiana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, Oklahoma and South Carolina. For religious purposes: for example, drinking wine in a church ceremony is allowed in 25 states. For government related purposes which includes among others working under cover with the police and participating in government research. For medical purposes; medical treatment prescribed or administered by a licensed physician. The exception applies in 16 states. For educational purposes for example the students in a culinary school- applies in seven states. In alcohol selling premises with parental consent- applies in 11 states.
The move to rising the drinking age of teens to 21 has been supported by many people who are of the opinion that teens cannot handle alcohol responsibly. Teen drinking is seen as likely to cause harm, or death in some cases, to the consumers and people around them. Arguments against the minimal age for drinking are arising, where it has been argued that the requirement has pushed underage drinking into less controlled and private environments and has not stopped teen drinking, but has instead led to life and health endangering teen behavior (Akhavan).
The move to keep the drinking age at 21 is supported by majority of Americans, with a recent poll conducted showing that 54% support the law. Most college students and 31% of the population argue that this age should be reduced to 18 (Akhavan, 1). The mothers against drunken driving (MADD) leaders are against the lowering of the drinking age from 21 to 18, citing threats to public health and safety (Akhavan, 1).
According to the college presidents, the legal drinking age should be lowered as adulthood is considered to begin at 18. They argue that at 18, teens are allowed to enroll in college, enlist in military, vote and even get married thus their ability to make decisions at this age is acceptable to society, yet they cannot drink at this age! They claim it implies inconsistency and unfairness on the law makers (Akhavan, 2).
The mothers against drunk driving (MADD) leaders responded by branding it “an issue of public health and safety”. However, proving their argument would be a difficult task since any data that they present would be considered biased as would always be viewed as a way of getting the debate to their point of view. A statement from the MADD 2012 Handbook for talking with teens about alcohol seems rigid! Encouraging parents to enforce zero tolerance and agree on no use rule and also set family rules of no alcohol use before 21 years proves rigidity. Setting rules and educating the teens simultaneously or just setting the rules and not educating them would lead to rebellion! (Akhavan 3).
Some people suggest that the drinking age should be lowered to 18 or 19. The young adults should be allowed to drink in pubs, taverns, restaurants, official school functions and other places where the environment is controlled. Educational programs and role modeling should be used to teach the young adults on responsible drinking. The implementation of the rules is challenging! Reason, most students under 21years old and in college consume alcohol irresponsibly and view alcohol consumption as a symbol of adulthood and rebellion against authority. Legislation on the prohibition of underage drinking had been proposed in the past twice – In 1984, Maryland, but the laws were found to be unenforceable rooting to socio- economic and political reasons. Political reasons ranged from unwillingness of politicians protecting their businesses and images. On the other hand, Social reasons were basically curtailed by attitude of the recipients of the law – The citizens, leading to a repeal of the same. The main reason for their repulsion was the social problems; health reasons- positive ones, physical and psychological disturbances that result from the backlash. Since prohibition did not work the first two times it was implemented, little hope that the legislation will bear any fruit now is evident (Caruth and Valle, 43).
Statistics show that college students flaunt the current drinking laws. The percentage of heavy drinkers in colleges and universities is greater for underage students than those over 21. According to the same statistics, out of the heavy drinkers, 24% are of legal age as compared to 32% who are underage. The law mandating that alcohol should not be sold to people under the age of 21 was passed in 1987. Before its implementation, a notable decline in drinking and driving related incidences were experienced. In 1982 for example, 82.4% of the students in the age bracket 19-20 had at least once reported to drinking! This statistics however, declined in 1984 when only 45.4% of the same age group was involved in binge drinking. There was also a decrease in per capita consumption of alcohol way before the implementation of the law. The decrease of drinking and its related problems also began before the law was implemented; implying that the decrease is a result of many factors other than the law. Such factors may include safer automobiles with airbags and emphasis of seat belt usage, education concerning drunk driving, lower speed limits, designated driver programs, taxi services at the drinking establishments, among others (Caruth and Valle, 62).
Some groups do not have drinking related problems such as the Jews, Chinese, Greeks and Italians. The characteristics they have in common including the lack of drinking pressure, intolerance to irresponsible behavior and education about drinking from both parents and other non-related adults. The society also agrees on what is considered as responsible drinking. The belief of such cultures is that the law limiting the drinking age to 21 years does not work, and the government should focus more on educating the youth on responsible drinking and dangers of overconsumption of alcohol (Hansom).
The drinking age should be lowered to 18 years - the recognized beginning of adulthood. At this age, people are allowed to serve on juries, vote, join the military, sign contracts and get married. The youth at this age are also prosecuted as adults and in their various responsibilities involve themselves in making life-defining decisions and they can assume such vital roles in society, they should also be trusted to behave responsibly when it comes to alcohol consumption (Hansom).
Binge drinking occurs when the adolescents indulge in alcohol consumption when not taught to drink moderately. Alcohol will also become less of a taboo when the drinking age is lowered to 18 or 19 years; it will take away the thrill associated with breaking the law, and make alcohol consumption normal and done in moderation. The law forces teens to drink in unsupervised places such as house parties and fraternity houses as are prohibited from drinking in public locations such as bars and restaurants. When the teens indulge in alcohol in these unsupervised places and accidents or injuries happen, they get scared of seeking professional medical assistance out of fear of the legal implications, and in most cases, this worsens the situation. This adds on the argument that the drinking age should be lowered, so that teens consume alcohol under supervision in regulated environments (Hansom).
When the drinking age remains at 21, it is assumed that maturity is symbolized by alcohol consumption. Therefore pushing teens, who want to seem mature, into drinking. This is another reason as to why the drinking age should be lowered. Furthermore, the results from the two previous drinking laws enacted in the last century indicate that the alcohol consumption age restrictions do not really get rid of underage drinking, but instead lead to underground and illegal alcohol behavior. The implementation of the law is costly and inefficient. The capital would be spent in a better way educating the youth about alcohol.
Drinking is also good for all people, including those aged between 18 and 20, when done in moderation. Some Researches - not all, have proved that people who drink moderate alcohol have a decreased risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).Further analysis has suggested that; consumers of red wine and/or possibly other alcoholic drinks live a healthier lifestyle in general. Drinking not more than one drink per day for women and not more than two drinks per day for men may decrease the risk of CHD (American Health Organization). Later researches by other American Scientists followed that people who took two or one drink per day had a 32% lower risk of dying of CHD than non-drinkers! The setting of the drinking age at 21 is seen as unconstitutional and a discrimination against those aged between 18 and 20 (Mason, Timothy and Jennifer, 3).
Arguments in support of the law state that the drinking age should be 21, or even increased to 25. There are states such as Massachusetts that lowered the age of drinking to 18, leading to a significant increase in crashes related to alcohol, for those between the ages of 18 and 20. Statistics for the period between 1975 and 2002 indicate that there have been reduced fatal traffic accidents, for the age group between 18 and 20, ever since the age for alcohol consumption was raised to 21. There has also been a significant decrease in the number of underage drinkers from implementation of the law. The fact that teenagers binge drinks when exposed to alcohol indicates that they are capable of alcohol abuse and should therefore be distanced from it, by law. The statistics also indicated decreased academic performance, and missing of classes, by students who engage in alcohol consumption. If the drinking age was to be lowered to about 16 or 17 like in some European countries, it would be expected that the teens would drive while under the influence of alcohol! (Mason, Timothy and Jennifer, 7).
In conclusion, binge drinking among college students can be prevented by lowering the legal drinking age. The limit of 21 is unrealistic, since anyone above the age of 18 is considered and handled as an adult. Most teens begin their interaction with alcohol at the age of 16, when they get their driving licenses, and are able to escape the parental supervision. If the legal drinking age was to be lowered, the teens would be more aware of alcohol. Their experiences would make them more responsible, when they become adults, at 18. It makes no sense, preventing soldiers in other nations, the right to consume alcohol if they are in a position to protect the people they need to keep alive!
Akhavan, Kamy. "Should the drinking age be lowered from 21 to a younger age?" 12 July 2010.Web. 10 December 2010.
Caruth, Bruce and Stephen K. Valle. "Drunk Driving in America: Strategies and Approaches to Treatment." New York: Routledge, 1986. 36-70. Print.
Hansom, David J. "Should the Minimum Legal Drinking Age of 21 be Lowered?" 3 September 1997. Web. 10 December 2010.
Mason, Timothy and Jennifer. "Journal of Legal Studies." Assessing the Impact of the 21-Year Old Drinking Age (1986): 3-7.