Drinking Age Should Stay Put at 21

Riley Kalous     , Contributing Reporter

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Ever since 1984, the legal drinking age has been 21 in America. Circumstances are different now, though, as society is constantly changing and adapting to new ideas. Many outdated laws and acts have been modified to better suit society and now the current drinking age is being questioned, too. While some people maintain that the legal age to consume alcohol should be lowered, this would be a mistake. Instead, the legal age should remain the same for liquor with a high alcohol content, but there should be leniency for less potent alcohol like beer and wine.

Looking back on our nation’s history with alcohol, the legal drinking age in the 60’s and 70’s was set at 18 years old. Many adolescents took advantage of this and as their obsession with alcohol grew, so did the amount of risky behavior. Due to an increased amount of drunk driving and alcohol-related car accidents, a public health crisis was erupting and something needed to be done. According to the National Institute of Health, during this time over 60 percent of traffic fatalities were due to the reckless use of alcohol. A new act was then passed to raise the drinking age to adjust to this growing conflict. However, alcohol restrictions that raised the legal age to 21 did not lessen teen drinking. Many teens were still able to get their hands on alcoholic beverages. Lowering the age will not stop the underage drinking issue, however, and could make it worse. If young adults are able to purchase alcohol, this will not only increase the number of irresponsible decisions, but now even younger ages could easily get their hands on alcohol. Younger students probably know more 18-year-olds who would be willing to buy them liquor than would a 21-year-old.

With great power comes great responsibility, and at 18 years old, the brain is not even done developing. Currently, teens are expected to take risks and will make unwise decisions. However, being under the influence of alcohol will just magnify that these poor decisions and make teens more prone to poor choices. The brain is relied on to carry out daily tasks and to solve complex problems. Those actions can be hindered when underage consumption of alcohol occurs and the brain is not fully finished developing. According to the Foundation for a Drug-Free World, “Drinking is more harmful to teens than adults because their brains are still developing throughout adolescence and well into young adulthood. Drinking during this critical growth period can lead to lifelong damage in brain function, particularly as it relates to memory, motor skills, and coordination.”

Another reason why the drinking age should not be lowered is so the rate of car crashes and accidents do not spike again. When the drinking age was at 18, the number of alcohol-related incidents increased. Keeping the current legal age at 21 might disappoint people, but it will be worth it knowing that a lot of lives are being saved by this decision. An estimated 800 lives have been saved each year as a result of the higher drinking age.

Research shows that people who start drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to develop an addiction towards alcohol than those who start drinking at the legal age. If the legal age is lowered to 18, many more high school students could legally drink before graduation. This would make it far more likely that alcohol would be purchased for younger drinkers by these newly legal “adults.” When more minors are exposed to alcohol at an early age, the risks of drinking in excess increase. The number of alcoholics and drinking problems will rise and that can be prevented by ensuring that the legal age to drink alcohol remains at 21.

Alcohol is known to cause violent or destructive behavior because it impairs judgement and decision making. That, combined with the 18-year-old brain which is still developing, can cause chaos. The frontal lobe of the brain, the part responsible for reasoning and decision making, is not fully developed until the early or middle 20s. This means the occurrence of unplanned sexual activity and unplanned pregnancies could rise, as could the number of sexual assaults. Car accidents and crashes would increase as well. Poor decisions would simply become more frequent if the legal age were to be lowered and this puts both the drinker and bystanders at greater risk for harm.

People should be held accountable for their own actions and for making good choices, however, not everybody will act appropriately. College students are still figuring out their path in life and so they are prone to experimentation and making poor decisions. We all know college students drink, but making it easier for them to do so only increases the probability of drinking in excess. This then leads to a spike in reckless behavior and possible alcohol poisoning.

Many who question the legal drinking age maintain that if you can serve your country, then you should be able to have a beer. This is understandable, to an extent. A possible compromise might be to only allow low alcohol content beverages to be available to 18-year-olds. For example, make it legal for an 18-year-old to have a beer, a glass of wine or other beverages with a low alcohol content, but keep the age for hard liquor at 21. This solution would make it much harder to overdose on alcohol. Tequila, whiskey, vodka and other drinks with a high alcoholic content should remain strictly illegal until age 21.

Lowering the legal drinking age altogether is a bad idea, however, if the age were to be lowered, making only beverages with low-alcohol content available for purchase for those 18-20, might be an acceptable compromise.