Should the Drinking Age Be Lowered to 18?

By , Reno, NV

In the United States the drinking age is twenty one, but that would surprise you if you have ever been around high schoolers in America. This is because even though the law prohibits it, most American teenagers ignore the law and drink anyway. It was found in a 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey that 33% of high school students had drank alcohol in the past 30 days (“Fact Sheets-Underage Drinking” 3).  This poses the question of why the drinking age is twenty one when it is obviously not making much of a difference in combatting teen drinking. In fact, this law in the way it is currently is doing more harm to teenagers than good. Plus, the law is widely ignored in the first place making it even more ineffective. This is why the drinking age should be lowered from twenty one to eighteen.


To start off, this law was originally meant to help prevent teen drinking, but, sadly, the effect it has had is the complete opposite. Between 1998 and 2005 the number of alcohol related deaths has tripled (Glaser 4). Deaths from alcohol use has got to be the worst possible thing to happen to drinking teenagers  and since the law was made in 1980 to raise the drinking age it has only worsened the toll on teenagers lives(4). To understand why this law does not work in the first place the reason why so many teenagers in America choose to drink must be considered. The reason behind why so many teenagers ignore the law is because drinking has a taboo allure towards it. Drinking is seen as a rite of passage in America in your teenage years. It is seen “as an enticing ‘forbidden fruit’ a badge of rebellion against authority and a symbol of adulthood”(Engs 2).  It would seem logical to conclude that this would still be the case even if the drinking age is lowered. However, it is not. It can be proven that America is the exception when it comes to this attitude towards drinking with its youth because of what has been seen in other countries.  In European countries where the drinking age is eighteen; younger European teenagers show fewer occasions of dangerous intoxication than their American counterparts.( "Drinking and Culture: International Comparisons." 1). This lower rate of dangerous intoxication in countries with an eighteen year old drinking age shows that by subsequently lowering the drinking age in America it will help lower the atrociously high rate of alcohol related deaths. If the goal of having a lower drinking age is to prevent teen drinking and deaths from it, then it is only logical to follow European countries examples and lower the drinking age.


Yet another thing that is an added benefit to lowering the drinking age is that you can teach kids from a younger age how to drink responsibly. With how the law currently is right now it just expects twenty one year olds to automatically know how to drink responsibly. But, how can you expect twenty one year olds to drink properly without an education?(4) This brings up the problem of binge drinking, which is what happens to a lot of young drinkers who have never been educated on what drinking responsibly looks like. This can be seen among university students where 22% of students who are under twenty one are considered to be heavy or ‘binge drinkers’ (consuming over five drinks at least once a week)( 2). A solution to this problem could be making sure that eighteen year olds would have to apply for an alcohol permit. This would mean that they would have to go through an alcohol education course that would teach them about drinking responsibly(Griggs 5). This is very similar to how students have to go through courses to get a driver’s license. You wouldn’t expect a teenager to drive responsibly without proper education, so why should it be different with alcohol?


To only make this essay about the reasons for lowering the drinking age and not address the other side of the argument would be unfair. So, here is a reason why the people who are against lowering the drinking age feel the way they do. Those who are against lowering the drinking age back to eighteen have made their argument from what happened in 1971 when the drinking age was lowered from twenty one to eighteen.(5)  The reason this new law was put in place in the first place was because at the age of eighteen you were allowed to vote, marry, enter contracts, and serve in the military, but not drink. What happened when the law was changed was Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) lobbied lawmakers to raise the legal alcohol limit.(5) They stated that more young drivers drove drunk and caused accidents from when the legal limit was eighteen versus when it was raised to twenty one. However, this data is flawed because the decrease in drunk driving had many factors involved besides just the legal limit. “These include: education concerning drunk driving, designated driver programs, increased seat belt and air bag usage, safer automobiles, lower speed limits, free taxi services from drinking establishments, etc.” (2).  Therefore, MADD’s statement saying it has decreased rates of drunk driving is extremely flawed and cannot be used as a valid argument as to why the drinking age should stay twenty one and not be lowered to eighteen.


The reasons to lower the drinking age to eighteen far outweigh all the reasons to keep the law as it is. These reasons are as follows: not many teenagers even follow the law, lowering the age can help teenagers learn how to drink responsibly, it will lower the rate of binge drinking, and it will lower the rate of alcohol related deaths among teenagers. Even though most Americans are against lowering the drinking age, the evidence towards lowering it must be considered. This whole topic of teenage drinking is taboo in America when it shouldn’t be. If people just looked at the facts they could see for themselves the surprisingly overwhelming amount of benefits of lowering the drinking age. Then, maybe, for once the American citizens could stop overlooking the problem with irresponsible teenage drinking and the fact that their ‘legal age limit’ does not actually work and do something about it.






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