Why We Should Keep the Drinking Age at Twenty-one
By Barry T. Hellman
English 116, section 6
11 May 2000
Imagine winning the State Basketball Championship. You get back to your house with a few friends and feel a party is in order, so you start drinking a few beers after your parents go to bed. Someone suggests that you drive somewhere to get rid of the empty cans. ?Yes, that’s not a bad idea?, so you all pile into the car and take off. A few hours later, your parents receive a telephone call to come down to the station. There has been a terrible accident, and they must identify the body. This is the one phone call all parents dread. This true story is detailed in the Germantown, Tennessee high school newspaper. Stories like this compel me to believe that the legal drinking age should be kept at twenty-one.
Almost every state set a legal drinking age of twenty-one, the legal voting age at the time, after prohibition was repealed. Between 1970 and 1975, twenty-nine states lowered the voting age from twenty-one to eighteen, twenty-nine states also lowered their drinking age to eighteen or nineteen. During the late seventies, studies showed that traffic crashes had drastically increased after lowering the drinking age. Once this was announced publicly, many groups created a movement to increase the minimal drinking age, and sixteen states responded. The Uniform Drinking Act was passed in 1984. This strongly encouraged the remaining thirteen states to raise their drinking age. If the states would not agree to do so by 1987, the government said that it would cut highway funding (Encyclopedia of Alcohol and Drugs).
Many would argue that when the drinking age were set at twenty-one, there is an unavoidably huge increase in alcohol use when youths, turning twenty-one, ?make up for lost time.? However, a study done by Alexander Wagenaar and PM O’Malley found that when the minimum drinking age was twenty-one, there was a lower use of alcohol after they turn twenty-one.
One of the largest arguments in favor of lowering the drinking age is the use of Europe as a comparison. Where as in Europe, where there isn’t a prescribed legal age for drinking, the age for obtaining a drivers license is eighteen. Sixteen is the average age for obtaining a license. This lower age for driving in combination with the lowered drinking age incurs a rise in traffic accidents and even death. Drinking before twenty-one causes more deaths than illnesses. On the other hand, those countries have their share of alcohol problems. The rate of alcohol-related diseases such as cirrhosis to the liver is the same, if not higher, as in the United States. Also drunk driving among youth in Europe is lower, but only because the legal driving age in most European countries is higher. Furthermore the use of public transportation is greater in Europe, where as in the United States fewer people take advantage of public transportation. Public transportation is either frowned upon or not available.
It is also argued that even though the legal drinking age is at twenty-one, many youths still can easily obtain and drink alcohol, so the current drinking age doesn’t work. It stands to reason to conclude that if the drinking age were lowered to eighteen, even younger children would be using alcohol. This therefore, would have adverse affects on our society, not a positive affect. Because it’s illegal for people under twenty-one, many of those people don’t drink. Lowering the drinking age would increase alcohol problems among teens, even at an earlier age. (Wagenaar and co. article, page 2)
My opinion is further supported by the Correlation between underage drinking and alcohol abuse. Scientists of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism have said that teens that begin drinking before the age of fifteen are four times more likely to become alcoholics. The same institute also found that alcohol abuse doubles, in those who start drinking before the age of fifteen compared to those who first begin drinking at age twenty-one. Continuing, they found that twenty-five percent of those who began drinking before the age of seventeen went on to become alcoholics.
Furthermore, most studies show an increase in traffic accidents, and even deaths, among youths when the drinking age was lower. The Encyclopedia of Alcohol and Drugs also states that the result of lowering the drinking age caused a five to twenty percent increase in the number of fatal injury-causing crashes ?likely to involve alcohol, such as single-vehicle accidents occurring late at night? Alcohol use is typically reported in one-fifth to two-thirds of these problems; youth drowning, vandalism, assaults, suicides, and teenage pregnancies (Toomey, Rosenfeld, and Wagenaar 3).
Besides accidents, there is also an association between alcohol abuse and suicide. Between one-third and two-thirds of adolescent suicide victims have a measurable blood alcohol level. A study of suicides from 1970 to 1990, done by Johanna Birckmeyer and David Hemenway, found that the suicide rates of eighteen to twenty year olds living in states with a drinking age of eighteen was eight percent higher than in states with a drinking age of twenty-one.
The last point to consider is that when the drinking age was lowered to eighteen or nineteen an increase in traffic accidents occurred. Drinking before twenty-one causes more death than illnesses.
It seems to me that there is little valid argument against leaving the legal drinking age at twenty-one. Auto accidents, suicides, illnesses early drivers licences varying cultures, and alcoholism are all reasons in favor of maintaining a legal drinking age of twenty-one Too much, too soon, kills!
Birckmayer, Johanna; Hememway, David. ?Minimum-age drinking laws and youth suicide, 1970-1990.? American Journal of Public Health (1999). 29 April 2000.
Bower, B. ?Alcoholism shows its youthful side.? Science news 26 April 00
Quigley, Loria, et al. Drinking among young adults. Alcohol Health and Research World. April 00:p185-191.
Sherman, Laura. ?Tragedy After An Enormous Accomplishment.? Germantown High School News. 4-15-99
Toomey, Rosenfield, and Wager. Encyclopedia of Alcohol and Drugs. New York 1995
Toomey, Rosenfield, and Wager. The minimum legal drinking age: history, effectiveness, and ongoing debate. Alcohol Health and & Research World, 4-28-00 p213(5)
Wagenaar,Alexander, et al. Deterring sales and provision of alcohol to minors: a study of enforcement in 295 countires in four states. Public health Reports. April 00: p185-191.
already in the paper, the works cited