Issue Report: Lowering US drinking age from 21 to 18

Should the United States lower its drinking age from 21 to 18?

In the United States, young individuals must be of 21 years of age to drink alcohol. It is illegal for those under 21, and the punishment for breaking this law can be significant. This stands out from most countries in the world that have drinking ages of 18 or younger. Many in the United States have been questioning whether the law makes sense any more. Such questions have arisen, as they have in the past, during war-time, in which 18 year olds are sent to war, but are still not allowed to drink alcohol upon their return. In addition, many college students and groups complain that the law is simply unrealistic, that college students are drinking anyway, and that this sets a bad precedent for individual behavior in the face of the law. Family, conservative, and religious groups, however, strongly resist calls to lower the drinking age, arguing that 18 year-old are still not quite mature enough to take on the responsibilities of drinking and positing that it is better to put off vices such as alcohol consumption to later years. The debate continues apace.

Consumption: Has the 21 age-limit failed to reduce under-age drinking?

It has failed to reduce the ailing habit of drinking...

Rather it has encouraged youngsters to fall into the clutches of this really dangerous addiction. It is not at all a good idea as teenagers, who are already at a very tender age of falling prey to certain not-so-good mistakes, further get a valid license to consume alcohol and damage their livers and ruin their lives. They acquire this awful habit and get addicted to it very quickly and it not only affects their health but harshly destroys their overall personality. The thing which all know is dangerous needs to be banned and not legalised for teenaged people.

21 drinking-age has not reduced under-age drinking

John M. McCardell, former president of Middlebury College in Vermont and founder of Choose Responsibility said, “It does not reduce drinking. It has simply put young adults at greater risk.” The federal government’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that in 2005, the most recent year for which complete figures are available, 85 percent of 20-year-old Americans reported that they had used alcohol. Two out of five said they had binged — that is, consumed five or more drinks at one time — within the previous month.

US drinking-age increases the desire for the forbidden fruit

It is commonly believed that forbidden or inaccessible things often become more desirable to people. Alcohol, particularly for young individuals, is one of these things. Thus, forbidding 18-21-year-olds from consuming alcohol may actual increase the appeal of alcohol, increase its consumption, and increase related problems with it.

18-and-over law enables teaching of responsible drinking

David J. Hanson, an alcohol researcher and professor emeritus at the State University of New York at Potsdam.

“I think we should teach young people how to drink as well as how not to drink.”[1]

21 drinking-age general lowers under-age drinking

Alexander Wagenaar, an epidemiology professor at the University of Florida who studies alcohol issues, says studies consistently show that raising the drinking age “has substantially reduced the amount of drinking and the amount of damage due to drinking.”[2]

Lowering the drinking age increases use and problems

"There's no benefit to lowering the drinking age". Christian Science Monitor. January 12, 2006

“Recently, New Zealand lowered its drinking age, which gave researchers a good opportunity to study the impact. The result was predictable: The rate of alcohol-related crashes among young people rose significantly compared to older drivers.”

Forbidden fruit argument on alcohol fails on facts

"There's no benefit to lowering the drinking age". Christian Science Monitor. January 12, 2006

“As for the forbidden fruit argument, the opposite is true. Research shows that back when some states still had a minimum drinking age of 18, youths in those states who were under 21 drank more and continued to drink more as adults in their early 20s. In states where the drinking age was 21, teenagers drank less and continue to drink less through their early 20s.”

War: Is 18 a good drinking age since 18-year-olds go to war?

18 year-olds are trusted in war; they should be trusted to drink

John J. Miller. "The Case Against 21. Lower the drinking age." National Review Online. 19 Apr. 2007

Rep. Fletcher Smith sponsored a bill that would allow military personnel 18 and older to buy alcohol in South Carolina. “If you can take a shot on the battlefield, you ought to be able to take a shot of beer legally.”

“shouldn’t soldiers who are trusted with M-16s also be trusted with six packs?”

Some US states are considering to lower the drinking age to 18 to allow returning soldiers to be able to legally drink

Several states are pushing legislation that would allow the drinking age to be lowered to 18. The main reason is the acknowledgment that the current legislation has failed to decrease binge drinking and health issues associated with drinking among the young. It is at the same time a form of honoring heroes that fight a battle in Iraq or Afghanistan when they are 18 and serve their country bravely but upon their return to the US they are unable to legally enjoy themselves by drinking legally.

Safer roads with 21 drinking laws outweighs all trade-offs

Obama told vets on March 19th, 2008, “I know it drives you nuts. But I’m not going to lower the drinking age.” Obama told veterans that he sympathized with their predicament, but that setting the legal drinking age at 21 had helped reduce drunken driving incidents and should, therefore, remain.

Alcohol consumption not comparable to military service

"There's no benefit to lowering the drinking age". Christian Science Monitor. January 12, 2006

“First, I’m not sure what going to war and being allowed to drink have in common. The military takes in youngsters particularly because they are not yet fully developed and can be molded into soldiers. The 21 law is predicated on the fact that drinking is more dangerous for youth because they’re still developing mentally and physically, and they lack experience and are more likely to take risks. Ask platoon leaders and unit commanders, and they’ll tell you that the last thing they want is young soldiers drinking.”

Deaths: Would a drinking-age of 18 lower deaths from alcohol?

The data on youth drunk driving and deaths is debatable

21 drinking-age may not be responsible for lower driving deaths

Multiple factors between 1982 and present can account for the fall in drunk-driving deaths, other than the increase of the drinking age to 21 that year. The dramatic increase in seat-belt use probably accounts for most of the improvement. Greater public awareness efforts and strict zero-tolerance laws were also a major factor. The increase of the driving age may have been a very small factor, compared to these and other variables.

21 drinking-age just transfers deaths to 21-24 age group

National Youth Rights Association. FAQ

“as researchers Peter Asch and David Levy put it, the “minimum legal drinking age is not a significant-or even a perceptible-factor in the fatality experience of all drivers or of young drivers.” In an in-depth and unrefuted study Asch and Levy prove that raising the drinking age merely transferred lost lives from the 18-20 bracket to the 21-24 age group.”

Increase driving age to 18; reduce drinking age to 18

"Should The Drinking Age Be Lowered?". 12 Aug. 2007

“if the goal is to reduce drunk driving among those under 21, some suggest that the driving age should be raised. ‘The fact that driving is 16 here and drinking is 21 is the wrong way around,’ says Alan Marlatt.”

21-law causes kids to not seek help out of fear of punishment

"Should The Drinking Age Be Lowered?". 12 Aug. 2007

“Drunkenness also spawns other problems—from assaults and rapes to accidents and alcohol poisonings, both fatal and nearly so. Young adults who are drinking illegally are reluctant to summon help when things go wrong. “If a student passes out, in the old days there was usually someone around to check,” says Alan Marlatt, a psychology professor at the University of Washington who helped develop a widely used alcohol-screening program called BASICS. “Now everyone’s afraid of getting caught.””

The 21 drinking-age lowers drunk-driving deaths

"States weigh lowering drinking age". USA Today. 4 Apr. 2008

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says laws setting the drinking age at 21 have cut traffic fatalities involving drivers ages 18-20 by 13%. “We welcome the attention to the drinking age,” says MADD CEO Chuck Hurley. “The data is in fact overwhelming.”

Responsibility: Are 18 year olds responsible enough to drink?

18 year-olds are mentally/physically mature enough to drink

18-year-olds are trusted with many things; why not drinking?

"Should The Drinking Age Be Lowered?". 12 Aug. 2007

“If a woman is old enough to sign a contract, buy a house and get married, isn’t she also old enough to sip champagne at her wedding? If a man is mature enough to serve on a jury or risk his life in a war halfway around the world, isn’t he also mature enough to drink a beer?”

Introducing children to alcohol teaches responsible use

National Youth Rights Association. FAQ

“The National Youth Rights Association doesn’t just feel we should lower the age from 21 to 18 and change nothing else. We feel larger change must occur for people under 18 as well. Alcohol must be introduced gradually and at younger ages (12 perhaps) as they do in Europe. Young people must be allowed to get their feet wet through the introduction of alcohol in small amounts in safe environments like the home.”

Infantilizing 18-21-year-olds encourages immature drinking

John M. McCardell Jr., former president of Middlebury College and founder of Choose Responsibility (a pro 18-year-old drinking age activist group) – “If you expect adult behavior, you’re more likely to get it than if you infantilize people.”[3]

21 law causes reckless/unsupervised under-age drinking

John McCardell, the former president of Vermont’s Middlebury College and founder of Choose Responsibility (which seeks lower drinking ages) – “Prohibition does not work. Those [under 21] who are choosing to drink are drinking much more recklessly, and it’s gone behind closed doors and underground and off-campus.”[4]

Hang-overs teach responsibile drinking; laws unecessary

"Where responsibility begins". The Lantern, Ohio State University. 16 Feb. 2007

“But when we were sent to college, in a world where alcohol is easily accessible regardless of the law, some of us took advantage of it and some of us made mistakes. Many college students come down from a few years of drunkenness after the unpleasant hangovers provide an experience too uncomfortable to make ridiculousness worth it. Experience helps provide this.”

European youth are not more responsible drinkers

"There's no benefit to lowering the drinking age". Christian Science Monitor. January 12, 2006

Do European countries really have fewer youth drinking problems? No, that’s a myth. Compared to American youth, binge drinking rates among young people are higher in every European country except Turkey. Intoxication rates are higher in most countries; in the Britain, Denmark, and Ireland they’re more than twice the US level. Intoxication and binge drinking are directly linked to higher levels of alcohol-related problems, such as drinking and driving.

Many states allow under-age drinking with parents/spouses

All states ban selling alcohol to minors. And, nearly all states prohibit possession. Yet, many do not expressly bar minors from consuming alcohol in private, with parents/guardians, or with their spouses. States should be allowed to make these laws, and they have already done a good job of making them flexible. Further lowering the drinking age under all circumstances is unecessary and potentially dangerous.

Young people's brains aren't fully formed, so they're more susceptible to alcohol.

It protects them from pressure to drink.

Teenagers are not responsible drinkers.

Given the number of teen car accidents, teen pregnancies, and other results of irresponsible teen behaviour, how can we trust these young people to drink responsibly?

American kids binge drink; lowering drinking age would be chaos

"Should The Drinking Age Be Lowered?". 12 Aug. 2007

“They don’t drink the way we drank a generation ago,” says Cynthia Kuhn of Duke University, an expert on the effects of drugs and alcohol. “There’s an increasing minority who establish blood-alcohol levels that are nearly lethal.” A practice known as “front-loading”—getting drunk on cheap liquor before a night out—is common, and alcoholic blackouts are no longer rare. “It used to happen to the weird, stupid kid who couldn’t hold his liquor, and he did it once,” says Kuhn, who teaches alcohol education to student groups. “Now, it’s typical.”

Age discrimination: Is a cut-off at 21 age discrimination?

Banning 18-year-olds from drinking is age discrimination

National Youth Rights Association. FAQ

“Alcohol can be a very dangerous substance that causes problems for all people. This is as true for a 17 year old as it is for a 39 year old. The danger of alcohol is real and doesn’t go away when someone turns 21. If an organization wished to ban alcohol for the entire population equally, then NYRA would have no reason to stand in their way. NYRA is definitely not “pro-alcohol”, rather NYRA is “pro-youth” and we find it hypocritical that adults point their finger at youth while holding a beer in the other hand. It is time we recognize, and discuss the truth about alcohol rather than creating a young scapegoat for society to blame their alcohol troubles on. Through education, gradual entry, and a relaxing of strict no-use policy towards youth will make drinking safer for people of all ages.”

College: Would a lower drinking age help colleges cope?

18-year drinking age makes college regulation easier

"Lower the U.S. Legal Drinking Age to 18". Online Petition

“There have been many Colleges and Universities that disagree with the legal drinking age. These schools believe that by outlawing alcohol consumption from those students under 21 is only making the problem worse. If the drinking age were changed to 18, Colleges would be able to regulate alcohol use, so students would not become overly intoxicated. This would probably cut down on the number of College campus alcohol-related deaths, since Campus officials would be able to better monitor alcohol use.”

21 drinking-age undermines colleges shaping responsible drinkers

Colleges are seen as a place in which young men and women are prepared to enter the real world. Yet, the the 21 drinking age undermines this effort. Middlebury president John McCardell put in the following terms: “Society expects us to graduate students who have been educated to drink responsibly. But society has severely circumscribed our ability to do that.”[5]

The possibility of harming a students record because he engaged in underage drinking will be significantly decreased

As most college freshman will have already turned 18 by the end of their first year in college the possibility of them being accused of engaging in illegal drinking and being reported or even expelled form their college is going to be significantly lower one the legal drinking age shall be 18. This enables students to perform academically and in the workforce without worrying about any possibility of having their record ruined by one foolish night of underage drinking”

Safer roads with 21 drinking laws outweighs all trade-offs

"The Lower Drinking Age Debate". November 23, 2003

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that raising the drink age to 21 has reduced traffic fatalities involving 18- to 20-year-old drivers by 13 percent and has saved an estimated 19,121 lives since 1975. Twenty of twenty-nine studies conducted between 1981 and 1992 reported significant decreases in traffic crashes and crash fatalities following an increase in drinking age.

Simply Saves Lives. Over 40 percent of all the 16-to-20 year olds who died in 1994 were killed in car crashes, half of which were alcohol-related. The number of intoxicated youth drivers in fatal crashes dropped 14.3 percent from 1983 to 1994 — the largest decrease of any age group during this time period — indicating that the higher legal drinking age simply saves lives.

The article concludes that saving lives is “simply” the most important consideration, thus justifying the 21 age limit.

Parents: Would lowering the drinking age help parents?

21 drinking age usurps parental role on responsible drinking

21 drinking-age punishes parents who supervise drinking

"Should the US lower drinking age?". Side Effects May Vary. 13 Aug. 2007

“I personally think the drinking age should be lowered. I also think that punishing parents who allow underage drinking at their house – while no doubt well-intentioned – is misguided. Such rules essentially punish parents who choose to be responsible and supervise their kids, while irresponsible parents who have no idea where their kids are or who they’re with face no discipline.”

Lowering drinking age will undermine parental oversight

"There's no benefit to lowering the drinking age". Christian Science Monitor. January 12, 2006

“If bars and liquor stores can freely provide alcohol to teenagers, parents will be out of the loop when it comes to their children’s decisions about drinking. Age 21 laws are designed to keep such decisions within the family where they belong. Our society, particularly our children and grandchildren, will be immeasurably better off if we not only leave the minimum drinking age law as it is, but enforce it better, too.”

Many states allow under-age drinking with parents/spouses

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