As of 2018, the Minimum Legal Drinking Age (MLDA) in the United States of America is 21 years old. However this wasn’t always like this, up until 1984 teenagers of age 18 were able to legally drink and purchase alcohol. However in 1984 the Federal Government Passed a law which required every state to move their Minimum Legal Drinking Age to 21 or they would lose some of the funds that each state has and was needed to go towards the rebuilding of their roads.
Some may argue that moving the Minimum Legal Drinking Age to 21 was the right choice because early drinking can cause psychological and physiological changes to the teenagers internal organs, hormones and brain. However some argue that by lowering the MLDA to 18 would be an alternative. This due to the fact that responsible drinking would be taught from a younger age and teens would not feel the need to hide their drinking. This paper will argue if there is any benefits to moving the MDLA, what those benefits could be, or if the MDLA should remain at 21 because of the potential damage that could occur to teenagers when moving it to 18.
There are many reasons as to way people lobby to maintain the Minimum Legal Drinking age at 21. To begin with, a peer reviewed article by the National Institute of Health has shown that approximately 5,000 teenagers die from under age drinking, just in the United States alone. One might ask, they died because of underage drinking? And yes they did, because even though underage drinking may not seem like a big apart from the teenagers landing in Juvenile detention, underage drinking has so many more long term effects.
Nevertheless, one of the main reasons that people lobby for the drinking age to be maintained at 21 is because studies have shown that if the MLDA were lowered to 18, teenagers are more likely to suffer from physiological changes, like damages to the the liver, the endocrine system and the brain. Studies done by Block et al. 1983 shows that the abundance of alcohol in one’s system from an early age can decrease girls estrogen levels. In women with low estrogen levels infertility, depression, irregular periods etc.According to the study done by Frias et al. 2002 men and adolescent boys who consume a larger amount of alcohol have shown decreases in the levels of luteinizing hormone and testosterone.
Nevertheless, to test this out Frias et al 2002 created a study to show how Acute Alcohol Intoxication affects the pituitary-gonadal axis hormones and the pituitary-adrenal axis hormones. Therefore, further studies by other psychologists and doctors have shown that men with decreased levels of testosterone and decreased levels of the luteinizing hormone experience low sexual drive, insomnia, erictle dysfunction, decrease in muscle mass, hot flashes, fatigue etc. Another effect that alcohol can have on the body of youth is causing liver disease which if is not caught in time and progresses rapidly can be fatal.
Notwithstanding another major reason as to why the MLDA should remain at 21 is because many studies have shown that when moving the MLDA to 18, there tends to be more alcohol related deaths (car crashes, alcoholism, etc). This can be seen by the article “Societal Costs of Underage Drinking” done by Ted R. Miller, David T. Levy, Rebecca S. Spicer and Dexter M. Taylor. The research shown in this article shows us how in 2001 1,737 of drivers who were drinking died for having alcohol in their system. Nonetheless, their research also outline that 297,700 of people who were driving and drinking sustained really bad injuries. However, one must also consider the grave psychological impact that the deaths of the teenagers can have on their peers and parents, and the impact that severe injuries could have on them. Not only this but alcohol related problems in youth also turn out to be very expensive.
However there are also many people who lobby for the Minimum Legal Drinking Age to be lowered to 18. One of the main reasons that some people are in favor of the MLDA being lowered to 18 years old is because it promotes safe drinking. The Amethyst initiative is based on the idea of lowering the MLDA and promotes the idea of safe drinking. The Amethyst initiative is an initiative signed by 135 University Presidents. The presidents of these universities argued that if the MLDA were to be lowered college students would drink in more visible and controllable environments instead of having drinks at parties and binge drinking at these parties. , When teenagers drink at parties there is no way to control the amount of alcohol they are consuming, there is less of chance of noticing if there drink was drugged. Having the Minimum Legal Drinking Age 21 can be argued to be setting up teenagers for failure because it is known that if you tell a teen that they can not drink until they are 21 hey will still do it.
Another reason that University Presidents backed the Amethyst initiative is because they argued that teenagers aged 18-20 in Europe drink more responsibly than teenagers aged 18-20 in America. Which then leads to another reason why the MLDA should be lowered to 18 years old. Various studies including “Youth Drinking Rates and Problems: A Comparison of European Countries and the United States” show that even though teenagers in Europe may consume more alcohol per day compared to teenagers in America, teenagers in Europe are less likely to get heavily intoxicated like most teenagers in America would, when going out to a party to drink. This can easily show how having a lower MLDA, can led to not necessarily less frequent consumption of alcohol but just less consumption of alcohol per night.
Notwithstanding, some people may ask why is that teenagers feel the need to drink? Well, most of the time teenagers drink to feel more comfortable in social situation, like at parties, however it could also be due to peer pressure. One could argue that if the MLDA was lowered to 18, drinking would not be such a taboo topic and kids would not feel as pressured to drink in social situations. Also keeping the MLDA at 21 has not that much of a big effect on today’s youth as adolescents are still drinking.
After reading all these articles on the pros and the cons of maintain the MLDA at 21 or lowering it to 18, I believe that the Minimum Legal Drinking Age should be changed. I believe that it should be changed to either 19 or 20. This is due to the fact that no matter if there is and MDLA or not adolescents will still drink.
However, even though they will still drink they should be taught how to do it responsibly instead of simply being taught that enjoying a drink from time to time is bad and that one should not do it. I believe it also should be lowered because at the end of the day at 18 years old one is able to enlist in war, get a job, vote for the future leader of the country, and is essentially an adult but can not drink?
The proposal of moving the Minimum Legal Drinking age to 19-20 years old stems from the fact that at 19 or 20 years old most adolescents would have been living out from under their parents roofs and are more capable of making an educated decision as to how much alcohol they can consume and how much they should consume. However, there is still always health risks in lowering the MLDA, but these risks are extreme measures of what can happen in the long term when consuming alcohol.
In conclusion we are able to see that there are both pros and cons to lowering the MLDA and that there is pros and cons to maintaining the MLDA at 21. At the end of the day, the most responsible thing one can do whether the MLDA is changed or not is to teach children how to drink responsibly if they are going to do it.
- National institute of Health. (n.d.). The Effects of Alcohol on Physiological Processes and Biological Development. Retrieved November 12, 2018, from https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh283/125-132.htm
- Friese, B., Grube, J. W., & Moore, R. S. (2013). Youth Acquisition of Alcohol and Drinking Contexts: An In-Depth Look. Journal of Drug Education, 43(4), 385-403. doi:10.2190/de.43.4.f
- Frias, J. (2002). EFFECTS OF ACUTE ALCOHOL INTOXICATION ON PITUITARY-GONADAL AXIS HORMONES, PITUITARY-ADRENAL AXIS HORMONES, beta-ENDORPHIN AND PROLACTIN IN HUMAN ADULTS OF BOTH SEXES. Alcohol and Alcoholism, 37(2), 169-173. doi:10.1093/alcalc/37.2.169
- Wechsler, H., & Nelson, T. F. (2010). Will Increasing Alcohol Availability By Lowering the Minimum Legal Drinking Age Decrease Drinking and Related Consequences Among Youths? American Journal of Public Health, 100(6), 986-992. doi:10.2105/ajph.2009.178004
- Miller, T. R., Levy, D. T., Spicer, R. S., & Taylor, D. M. (2006). Societal Costs of Underage Drinking. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 67(4), 519-528. doi:10.15288/jsa.2006.67.519
- National Institute of Health (2006, January). Underage Drinking-Why Do Adolescents Drink, What Are the Risks, and How Can Underage Drinking Be Prevented?. [online] Pubs.niaaa.nih.gov. Available at: https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/AA67/AA67.htm [Accessed 22 Oct. 2018].
- Voas, R. B., & Fell, J. C. (2012). Commentary on Fitzpatrick and Colleagues (2012): Forecasting the Effect of the Amethyst Initiative on College Drinking. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 36(9), 1479-1482. doi:10.1111/j.1530-0277.2012.01914.x
- Rasul, J. W., Rommel, R. G., Jacquez, G. M., Fitzpatrick, B. G., Ackleh, A. S., Simonsen, N., & Scribner, R. A. (2011). Heavy Episodic Drinking on College Campuses: Does Changing the Legal Drinking Age Make a Difference?*. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 72(1), 15-23. doi:10.15288/jsad.2011.72.15