In America, the rites of passage to adulthood includes obtaining a driver’s license, driving a car and graduating from high school. Growing up, I followed these stepping stones to be able to successfully live the American way of life. I had my driver’s license at 17, owned my car and upon graduation from high school at 18, I immediately enlisted in the military, leaving the comforts of my parent’s house. I was living on my own and could do whatever I want. It was a great feeling of accomplishment. Finally, I’m 18 and considered an adult.
It was Friday afternoon, my friend Peter and I visited a co-worker, who lived right outside of Keesler Air Force Base. Mike was a lot older than us and he had his own apartment. That evening, we decided we were going to cook out at his backyard. I was in charge of the barbecue grill and I was cooking hamburgers and New York steaks that we bought at the butcher shop an hour earlier. It was a hot, humid night and it was much hotter in front of the grill. Mike handed me an iced cold beer from his blue Igloo cooler. I did not plan on drinking, but it was hot, and I was thirsty. So, I opened and drank my first Old Milwaukee beer.
We had dinner and I finished off 4 beers and was feeling a little tipsy. Mike called me a lightweight as we all laughed. It was true, I was a lightweight. It was getting late so Peter and I decided to walk home. It was a short 20 minute walk from his house to our dormitory. It was nearly half past ten and we were joking around and laughing as we staggered through the back gate of the base. The young sentry at the gate noticed the smell of alcohol on my breath when I handed him my identification card. He questioned me and Peter if we had been drinking. I froze and did not say a thing. Peter did the same. Needless to say, my friend and I were detained and later charged with underage drinking.
After meeting with my commander the following week, I was given a written reprimand and base restriction. The punishment may seem harsh at that time, but were very lucky. If we were arrested off base, we would have to spend a night in jail, serve at least 30 days of community service, fined up to 500 dollars and would have a misdemeanor on our record (www.dor.ms.gov, 2018). It goes without saying that once you turned 18, you were legally an adult and you also got the adult consequences that came along with it. The one thing that you cannot do is to buy and drink alcoholic beverage. It is against the law. As an adult, why can’t I legally have a drink at 18 in the United States but can drink in most countries?
The National Minimum Drinking Act
Today, the 21-year-old minimum drinking age is the norm in our society, but how did it come about? Most people do not know that the raised drinking age from 18 to 21 years old was only made a national law in 1984. There were numerous campaigns decades before to raise the drinking age because of the teenage drinking crises (Males M., 1996, pg. 200). Fueled by scary statistics published by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and advocacy groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the National Minimum Drinking Age Act was passed. This law required the States to prohibit the sale, possession and consumption of alcohol to anyone under the age of 21 (alcoholpolicy.niaaa.nih.gov). Any state that did not follow with this new law will lose Federal highway funds. President Reagan was hesitant on signing the bill, but eventually signed it into law in June 1984. Raising the legal drinking age to 21-years of age for the entire United States should significantly reduce drunk driving mishaps among teenagers.
One of the advocacy groups responsible for the raised drinking age was Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) which was founded by Candy Lightner. She was a key advocate for the raising drinking age to 21 after the loss of her daughter from an adult drunk driver. The organization advocated over 1,000 drunk driving laws aimed to reduce drunk driving (Sadoff, M. 1990, pg 1-2).
In 2008, a group of college presidents throughout the United States signed a statement saying that students are still drinking irresponsibly even though the minimum drinking age was set at 21. Their group, Amethyst Initiative aimed to lower the drinking age and to teach the young students about responsible drinking (Cotten, S., 2008 para. 15-16). During an interview with a Sacramento State student, she stated, “Underage drinking among college students is like a ritual and drinking age laws are not being enforced. There’s binge drinking, usually instigated by friends” (Garcia, S. 2018). I also learned that house parties were held outside of the college campuses, normally without any adult supervision. One of the hosts will have fake id so they can purchase alcohol or purchased by an older student. So, there’s unlimited access to beer and booze. When there are underage drinkers and free booze, they will drink to excess.
The attitude towards drinking alcohol in Europe is much different than in the United States. The drinking age throughout Europe varies from 16 through 20 years old. Having lived in England and Germany for a total of 10 years, I’ve noticed that these countries have different stance on drinking for anyone under the age of 21. In Europe, drinking is more of a social connection and not taboo. The Europeans have successfully embraced alcohol as a culture. It is common to see young adults drinking beer or wine with their meals at a restaurant. According to Ruth C. Engs, a Professor of Applied Health Sciences from Indiana University stated in her research, “The drinking age in the United States should be lowered to 18 in a controlled environment such as restaurant or pubs. In these situations, responsible drinking could be taught through role modeling and education programs” (Engs, R. 1998).