Should the legal drinking age stay the same or be lowered?In 1983, the national legal drinking age was raised from 18 to 21. Since that time, binge drinking rates have skyrocketed among those...

Should the legal drinking age stay the same or be lowered?

In 1983, the national legal drinking age was raised from 18 to 21. Since that time, binge drinking rates have skyrocketed among those under 21 and the rates of accidents and fatalities in which alcohol is a factor has also increased significantly. Some people argue for lowering the drinking age back to 18 or perhaps even 17. They say that such a late age to drink legally only forces drinking underground, where teens cannot learn how to drink responsibly. Should the legal drinking age stay the same or be lowered?

Expert Answers
dftbap eNotes educator| Certified Educator

These are all excellent and well thought out opinions. We know from experience that prohibition is not the answer for the myriad of issues surrounding alcohol use. Education about the substance and the consequences of drinking need to be taught in a truthful, realistic manner if youth are going to have the ability to make informed decisions, not only about alcohol, but other drugs as well.

Interestingly, alcohol has no real positive benefits for the body. Even the argument about it being good for the heart has been replaced with information that drinking red grape juice is as beneficial. People drink to change the way they feel. Perhaps it is time to start paying more attention to why these young people are trying to alter their feelings, and what other methods, without negative consequences, could be used.

Changing the drinking age would have little difference in youth drinking. Those who want to drink, will find a way to obtain alcohol. However, if the drinking age is lowered, then the youth who are caught drinking while driving will have much more punitive consequences. A mistake made at 18,when the mind is still in such a state of growth and maturation could be devastating for the rest of their life. Knowledge and truthful education without scare tactics tell these youth that they are responsible, capable members of society who must take responsibility of their civic actions as well as their personal actions.

"Today’s teens are the most marketing-savvy and brand-conscious generation to date. Their health behaviors and outcomes reflect their economic, racial, gender, and geographic disparities. Knowing the habits and preferences of teens can help parents communicate more effectively with their children."(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2010)

Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a very interesting topic with many facets to it. The Federal government first legalized a national drinking age (1984 NMDAA) because of driving fatalities. Before that, states varied in legal drinking age with about a dozen being under 20 years old from the end of the Prohibition and close to three dozen being at 21. Of those that had under-21 drinking ages, some had already raised the age before the government passed federal law. While today the concern is different from driving fatalities--though that of course continues to be part of the concern--statistical research cannot prove a positive correlation between legalized age and increased safety in driving fatalities. The main reason is that reductions in fatalities across the age populations show the same statistical trend as for the target age group.

Therefore, it seems to me that high risk behavior involving drinking is triggered by other social forces than age and may not be directly impacted by a change in the drinking age. There is the risk that lowering the legal age might interact adversely with these unidentified other social forces and have a significantly negative indirect impact on high risk behavior in the target group [there is also the possibility of a positive effect since the other forces are unidentified]. 

Jeffrey A. Miron of the Department of Economics at Harvard University has a thorough analysis of the data on drinking age and driving fatalities here:

Kristen Lentz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I find the answer above very interesting and insightful.  I have a mixed opinion on the drinking age, and understand the reasons for the established drinking age of 21.  My problem with the drinking age is that it conflicts with the selective service act for military conscription. 

Maybe conflict isn't the right word, but I find it almost incomprehensible that a young man at the age of 18 is considered mature enough to be drafted, or choose to enlist, into the military but he or she isn't mature enough to have a glass of wine or a beer with his or her dinner.  By most societal norms a child is considered an adult at age 18.  By that age most, if not all young adults are driving, voting, and living on their own in some form or fashion.  Those thoughts alone make a great argument, but I firmly believe that if a person is old enough to be conscripted into military service they should enjoy ANY right or privilege available to the general public.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would argue that our attitude towards the drinking age reflects a deep ambivalence towards alcohol.  The majority of adults do drink to some extent, but there is still this attitude that drinking is very bad for us and that alcohol needs to be kept away from impressionable youths.  To me, this is a pretty hypocritical way of thinking.  We are more than willing to let young people engage in any number of other activities that are just as dangerous (if not more so) than drinking.  The most obvious example is driving cars.  If we are really concerned for the safety of young people, wouldn't we dramatically cut back on their ability to drive?

So I guess I think the drinking age should come down.  We should not treat alcohol (and this is coming from someone who does not drink at all) as this horrible bogeyman that should be locked away from people who are adults in all other ways.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When one looks at a chart revealing the history of the drinking age in the United States, one is boggled at the many changes made in some states. For instance, Iowa, like other states after the repeal of Prohibition established the legal age at 21, then lowered it to 18 in 1972, raised it to 19 in 1973 and again raised it to 19 in 1978.  Apparently, this state, as well as most of the others heeded statistics for fatalities, and vacillated accordingly. The vacillations of other states are nearly as fickle as that of Iowa, as well, so lowering the age AGAIN does seems to have little rationale.  For one thing, lowering the age to the age of military service as an argument does carry as much weight nowadays since there is no longer a draft and people voluntarily enlist.

trophyhunter1 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I grew up when 18 was the legal age for drinking. I have no problem with lowering it again. I think many underage kids drink anyway, but, if you can vote at 18, it seems you should be able to responsibly drink. That said, education is important regarding drinking and driving. I think it is a real problem that people, young and old still do and they put other's lives at risk. Personally, I rarely drink and when I was younger, I didn't either. I think if people are not allowed to do something, it makes it more mysterious and they want to do it even more. I say to lower it to 18 for everything and make sure that the education about being responsible continues. Too many kids are getting in serious trouble in colleges because they are drinking anyway and are under the age of 21.

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As far as I remember, people enlisted in the armed forces, under the age of 21, can consume beer (no hard liquor)...unless it changed. The argument regarding being able to protect but not consume is overused (I worked in restaurants for many years).

That said, I do not think that an "appropriate" age will ever be found. People under the legal drinking age will always find a way to drink (if they so desire). The number itself does not matter (expect in the eyes of the law). If one were to lower it, some may begin drinking earlier. If one were to raise it, the same thing will happen.

Honestly, I think we should just leave it alone.


hadjartahax | Student

I believe that the age of 21 is a prfect age to start legal drinking. The earlier you start drinking, the worser it is for your health, and if you are still young your body and brains are not ready yet for it. On the other side, people under 21 drink anyways, at friend's houses who are allowed to drink, or they do it secretly, so if the drinking will be lowered I don't think more people will buy it as they used to drink it anyways. And if you're not allowed to drink yet, it's even more 'cool' to drink because it's not allowed. So  I think there wouldn't really be a difference, but I would say keep it how it is.

najm1947 | Student

I belong to a religion where drinking is not only a sin but is considered to be the mother of all evils.  I also believe that laws of a country should be equally applicable to all adults irrespective of the gender.

In cultures where drinking is considered a norm for adults, the age limit for drinking should be the same as for other laws irrespective of the consequences. Adult is an adult and is supposed to know what is good or bad for him. If he does something consciously, he must be prepared for the consequences.

In my personal opinion, drinking is as bad for health (both physical and mental) as smoking, if not more and has many potential hazards for the society hence one may voluntarily refrain from it even in cultures where it is a norm.