In America, the age where one can legally call themselves an adult is eighteen. At eighteen, one can pay taxes, become married, become a legal guardian, possess a gun, and even serve on the battlefield. All of these require huge amounts of responsibility and accountability. One can argue that these duties require far more obligation than the act of consuming alcoholic beverages. However, in the United States, it is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to purchase or indulge in alcohol. If 18 is when one “comes of age”, then they should have the right to drink alongside the other responsibilities that they must carry as an adult.
During the late 1960s and 1970s the United States was suffering from a public health crisis. An overwhelming increase in car accidents relating to drunk driving caused President Ronald Reagen to pass the Minimum Drinking Age Act in July 1984,which decreed the states to raise the drinking age to 21 instead of 18. During the next several years, through time consuming and measurable expenses, this law was thought to be proven effective. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human services, drunk driving accident rates dropped by 50% (Office of Adolescent Health 1).
However, it’s been over three decades since this law was passed and it is not possible to say that the law still has the same effect today. Many young adults, especially college students, not at all discouraged by this outdated law, rather encouraged by the thrill of breaking it, have continued to drink and many more even participate in heavy drinking or binge drinking, which can be defined as consuming an excessive amount of alcohol in a short period of time. Even more dangerous is the fact that as they drink, these young adults drink in hiding usually in unsupervised areas where they will not be questioned. The legal minimum age of drinking should be lowered to 18 instead of 21 as it will save time and expenses that can be more useful towards something else, give young adults to experience true responsibility in their actions, and encourage safer environments where they can participate in drinking activities instead of driving them more underground and out of sight.
One does not simply hand someone car keys without first teaching them how to drive. With this logic, one should also not hand them a bottle of alcohol without teaching them first how to drink responsibly. According to the United States General Accounting Office, relating to government efforts to stop underage drinking, “total appropriated federal funding related to prevention of youth alcohol and drug use was $44,023,796” (Information on Federal Funds Targeted at Prevention 13). Lowering the drinking age will allow a decrease in these spendings. One reason would be that expenses used to incarcerate would decrease. According to the Center of Economic and Policy Research, “It costs about $25,000 to keep one person in a state or local jail for a year” (Schmitt 11).
They also estimated that around 200,000 people a year are arrested due to crimes relating to underage drinking. Doing the math, the U.S. can save millions of dollars if the drinking age was lowered to 18. These funds can then be used to educate young adults on how to drink responsibly by making it clear to them the difference between alcohol use and alcohol abuse, unbiased information about consuming alcohol, and how to use the power of the lower drinking age wisely and responsibly. Lowering the drinking age will also be beneficial to the country’s economy. A larger portion of the population will be entitled to drink in public and purchase alcohol in public businesses such as restaurants and stores therefore increasing profit for said businesses allowing the government to collect more tax dollars.
It is easily arguable that one can not put a price tag on life which is definitely true. However, decreasing the drinking age will actually keep young lives safe rather than endangering them. The strict lookouts by officers for underage drinkers have driven many young adults into hiding. To avoid apprehension, they slink into unsupervised and sometimes even dangerous areas such as abandoned buildings, forests, and tunnels to consume alcohol. The drinking age rule has not stopped underage drinking, but rather driven it deep underground. The Gordie Center is a foundation that works to prevent alcohol abuse amongst college students. The foundation was named after an eighteen year old boy named Gordie Bailey.
Gordie was a student at the University of Colorado at Boulder when he was found dead on September 17th, 2004. The night before, Gordie had participated in an initiation night for the Chi Psi fraternity. The brothers of the fraternity took Gordie and other initiates out to Arapaho Roosevelt National Forest and instructed them to drink 10 gallons of hard liquor in under half an hour. After a night of tireless drinking, Gordie, extremely intoxicated, was dragged back to the fraternity house and left on a couch to “sleep it off”. However, after not waking for 10 hours, he was found and announced dead the next morning. CBS news interviewed Gordie’s mother, Leslie Lanahan, about the tragedy.
When asked by the interviewer “If the drinking age had been 18, instead of 21, would the kids have called for help when Gordie passed out?” Lanahan replied with confidence “I think so, because it was illegal they did not call for help. They had to make a decision about what they were going to do and unfortunately made the wrong one.” (Stahl). If the drinking age had been 18 instead of 21, the college students would not have felt pressured to hide in the woods but rather done their activities in a public, safe area. They would have also called for help after Gordie passed out, but in fear of persecution, they decided against it, heartbreakingly ending Gordie’s life as a result. Lowering the drinking age would allow young adults to drink in a supervised, regulated environment and prevent more stories like Gordie’s to ever happen again.
In today’s day and age, someone between the ages of 18 to 20, is allowed to fight and die for their country. However, they can not walk into a store and purchase alcohol. They are allowed to make decisions about their country’s leaders and serve in a jury to decide another human’s fate but they are not allowed to get intoxicated. So many rights and responsibilities are put on someone once they change from 17 to 18. Victoria Decesare from Penn State University makes a good point by saying in an article called “Legal Drinking Age Debate”, “Lowering the drinking age to eighteen does not necessarily mean that all eighteen year olds are going to drink. However, it will give them the deserved right to be able to decide if they want to drink when they have the right to make other adult decisions and carry other adult responsibilities” (Decesar 1). Lowering the drinking age will allow 18 year olds who are legally considered adults to make their own decisions and learn about responsibility which is an important life skill to have as they continue through adulthood.
Critics however argue that if the minimum drinking age was lowered to 18 instead or 21, wouldn’t 15 become the new 18? They argue that this law would cause a chain of events that will lead to even more underage drinking at even younger ages. However, 116 countries out of the world’s 190 have a minimum drinking age law of 18 or 19. According to Boston University, “Countries such as Italy, Greece, and China, experience little to none drinking related problems” (Deltuvia 2). In fact, Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety shows that the United States, even with a drinking age of 21 had higher percentages of fatal car crashes related to alcohol than most of the other countries that have a minimum drinking age law of 18 (Alcohol Involvement in Fatal Crashes 1).
According to Dr. Ruth from Indiana University, “Alcohol is neither seen as a poison or a magic potent, there is little or no social pressure to drink, irresponsible behavior is never tolerated, young people learn at home from their parents and from other adults how to handle alcohol in a responsible manner” (Ruth 3). Continuing with the thought of underage drinking and driving and its dangers, some may also say that after the minimum age was increased to 21 back in the 1980’s, the number of fatal car accidents related to drunk driving decreased. This statistic may be true but one must also consider other factors that may have contributed to this result. Tougher seatbelt and DUI rules and also the improvement of safety features inside vehicles may have caused less people to pass away in accidents.
In conclusion, alcohol and the law have faced their good share of problems throughout history. In the early 1920’s, Prohibition drove citizens to a frantic kind of drinking that one can see today at college parties. Young adults will always find a way to sneak past the law, even if they have to go to dangerous, unsupervised environments to do so, just like the people who would attend speakeasies in the Prohibition days. Trying to stop them is a waste of time and resources that can instead go into educating young adults on the correct use of alcohol. This will give them the responsibility and knowledge they need to succeed in life.