Lower the Legal Drinking Age in America?

Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall Next to Your High School Diploma

MSNBC ran a story today about how U.S. colleges are campaigning to lower the legal drinking age in the country.

RALEIGH, North Carolina – College presidents from about 100 of the best-known U.S. universities, including Duke, Dartmouth and Ohio State, are calling on lawmakers to consider lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18, saying current laws actually encourage dangerous binge drinking on campus. (Read the original article)

Basically, that would mean that high school seniors would be allowed to drink legally. According to the article:

…the statement makes clear the signers think the current law isn’t working, citing a “culture of dangerous, clandestine binge-drinking,” and noting that while adults under 21 can vote and enlist in the military, they “are told they are not mature enough to have a beer.” Furthermore, “by choosing to use fake IDs, students make ethical compromises that erode respect for the law.”

The concerns here, of course, are that drinkers, regardless of age may hurt themselves and/or others. Since the number of alcohol related deaths, injuries and property damage is already astronomical in the 21-and-up crowd, is it really a good idea to lower the age to 18?

I’m approaching 30 and I have an exceptional memory, so I can vividly recall what it was like to be a teenager and having to kowtow to authority and rules everywhere I went. When I turned 18, I went straight to the liquor store and bought my first pack of cigarettes and a California Super Lotto Ticket, which I still have. The lottery ticket, not the smokes. (The pot was $3 million.) I also remember making the same observation about how silly it was that I could join the military and be trained to kill, but I couldn’t have a beer. So I can understand the constant upward pressure by the youth and why they would want to change the current rules.

I’m totally with them when it comes to reexamining the structure that’s already in place. These things should be checked and rechecked regularly to ensure that they still benefit society. With that said, the arguments presented don’t convince me that a younger age limit is in order. If nothing else, it should be higher.

Vote, Kill and Smoke, but No Alcohol

Turning 18 in America earns you a lot of freedoms that on the surface seem equal to, if not greater than, drinking a beer. However, when we examine those privileges closer, we’ll find that they’re actually quite different things altogether.

I read someone’s comment on the article that if 18-year-olds are able to buy cigarettes, they should be able to buy alcohol. But why? When I’m walking down the street and I see someone smoking a cigarette, I don’t worry that this person might verbally or physically assault me. If I see them get into a car after smoking, I don’t worry that they’re going to cause an accident or run someone over. Even if this person is a pack-a-day smoker, it doesn’t cross my mind that this person will probably call in sick to work the next day. I don’t believe the same can be said about alcohol, especially in a teenager’s hands.

As for joining the military and learning to kill people, let’s keep in mind that this is the military we’re talking about. It’s not exactly the freedom that teenagers are looking for. In fact, it’s probably as much structure and bureaucracy as you can get (if my friends in the military can be believed). So if teenagers want to exercise their freedom to give up their freedom, be my guest, but I don’t see how this equates to being able to drink alcohol…unless we consider the fact that the military will train you on how to use firearms and how to kill other people. But let’s look at that a little closer as well. The military trains you to protect the country and its interests. Sometimes that involves killing other people, sure, but through it all, you are being trained. With training, comes discipline. Now unless there’s some kind of mandatory “alcohol training course” that I slept through when I turned 21, no one teaches you how to drink responsibly.

In regards to voting, most teenagers don’t use this privilege, so it may not even bear comparing, but if we examine it based on the same concerns we have with alcohol use/abuse, they’re hardly the same. A single voter is no danger to himself or others.

Maturity Differences Between 18 and 21

The article quoted a college student who is for the age limit reduction, stating:

“There isn’t that much difference in maturity between 21 and 18…”

What she doesn’t realize is that statement can go both ways. She’s trying to say that 18-year-olds are as mature as 21-year-olds. I think that 21-year-olds are as immature as 18-year-olds. Even though the government says that 18-year-olds are legally adults, that’s really just an empty title. Kids are staying kids much longer. Sure, they may emulate adults by getting jobs and having children, but does physically being able to do something equal maturity? Spend enough time on YouTube and you’ll see that 20-somethings revel in doing stupid, immature things. How old would you say the average girl is on a Girls Gone Wild video? Thirty truly is the new 20.

Mental maturity aside, are 18-year-olds physically mature enough to drink alcohol on a regular basis? Their bodies are still developing and growing. Is it wise to have alcohol introduced then? I mean, they’re still dealing with acne!

Really, what I’d like to see is how much stock the quoted girl above puts in her statement about there being no maturity difference. Would she, as a 21-year-old college graduate, date an 18-year-old high school graduate?

Dangerous Drinking

This I don’t get. Underage drinkers drink more when it’s harder to get and they have to hide their drinking, but if the age limit is reduced and they can drink legally in the light of day, they’ll drink less? Am I crazy or does that sound like faulty logic? Are underage drinkers binge-drinking just to stick it to The Man?

Eradicate Crime by Making Crime Legal

The argument I love the most is the bit about “by choosing to use fake IDs, students make ethical compromises that erode respect for the law.” In this scenario, the problem isn’t alcohol age limits; it’s that the person using the fake ID is willing to break the law to get something he or she wants regardless of what it is, whether it’s beer, an MP3 or a video game. Colleges want to prevent the “erosion of respect for the law” by eroding the law preemptively to save underage drinkers the hassle of breaking it.

Last Call

The article makes two valid points I’d like to address in closing.

  1. Underage drinkers are going to drink regardless.
  2. Colleges want to lower the drinking age to unify the student body.

Then the solution here isn’t to lower the drinking age. It should be raised. Then everyone will be unified under the banner of underage drinking. The only people who get screwed with this plan are the underage that are waiting to drink until they’re legal. But in these cynical times, when it comes to changing laws, no one really wants to consider that the law is actually effective for some people.

  1. Amen to Brother Rene!

    I get the whole argument about the voting, but the age was 21. Voters who were younger were not seen as being mature enough. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that the voting age was lowered to 18 for political reasons (Vietnam/civil rights). Since then, the voter turnout for the 18-20 year-olds has been slim at best. But, can you use civic responsibility as an indicator of overall responsibility?

    I also understand the whole argument about being old enough to enlist and catch a bullet for Uncle Sam. But, Uncle Sam says you can’t drink most of the time anyway. You can’t drink on duty, or 8 hours before duty, on some posts. You can’t drink on any deployment, period. You can’t drink after duty hours in uniform (in most cases). This goes for all of the soldiers. And all soldiers are made aware of the policies about underage drinking and drunk driving in safety briefings every week and mandatory alcohol abuse prevention classes given every quarter. But, some soldiers still get into trouble; usually, those underage soldiers. But, can you use military dicipline as an indicator of overall responsibility?

    On a similar note: The number one killer of soldiers during the war on terrorism is traffic collisions! 72% of fatal collisions involving soldiers are E-4 and below under the age of 24, according to the Safety Command Sergeant Major CSM Tom Glidewell. But can you use statistics about age as an indicator of responsibility?

    I get the similarity argument for smoking. They are both controlled substances, vices. The government is slowly and systematically taking the right to smoke away from everyone. Apparantly, it can cause all kinds of horrible things to happen to you. Maybe they should both be banned. It’s obvious that using either is a bad decision. But, can you use decision making skills as an indicator?

    Truthfully, the typical student body is made up of kids who can’t hold their liquor. They may drink whole bottles of Jack and not puke it up and can surely drink me under the table, but that’s exactly what I mean. A sensible man or woman wouldn’t want to.

    We could raise it to 25, and I’d bet you we would still see the same age group getting into the same trouble. Or, hell, lower it to 16. Again the same group and same problems. The only difference would be that the cops wouldn’t be able to head them off with the underage drinking charge, so they would have to wait until it moved into drunk driving, disturbing the peace or even sexual assult.

    Drinking isn’t a *right* it’s a privilege. If the college students want to get this privilege, they can start using their rights and VOTE!!

  2. I could write a novel on this subject alone, but for the sake of your eyes and my fingers, I’m gonna keep it pretty simple.
    I personally believe that there are two kinds of people, those who are destructive, and those who are constructive. People who engage in destructive behavior are going to do so regardless of their age. I’ve met many people who are well over 30 and act as though they’re only 17. Obviously, in that context, age isn’t necessarily a definitive factor in ones maturity level. For instance, drug abuse, in general, is a HUGE issue here in Mississippi. My dad can tell you that most of the people who come to him simply for pain killers (though he’s a dentist, and can only write prescriptions for those AFTER someone has received care, assuming they actually NEED any pain meds at all) are over the age of 25. Instead of doing the mature thing and dealing with the root of their problems, they convince themselves that a pill is the magical “cure all” for whatever it is that ails them. It is this general thinking (or lack thereof) that creates problems in our society–not the laws which have been implemented to PROTECT us from these destructive people. I know I’m veering a bit off the topic of alcohol itself, but just as one self medicates with pills, others self medicate with alcohol. So is the problem really with the drugs themselves or is it with the people who abuse them? Now I don’t know if this holds true in all places, but speaking from what I’ve experienced in the several states that I’ve lived, it’s the lack of education that causes such destructive patterns in people. If you don’t equip people with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions, they won’t make them. Perhaps if there were more drug education classes in schools, this wouldn’t be such an issue. Remember D.A.R.E.? Whatever happened to that? I never so much as touched a cigarette because of that program, and I didn’t purchase my own alcohol until I was 22. Did I slip a couple of drinks before then? Yes, on occasion (who doesn’t)–but I’ve NEVER excessively drank, EVER. Nor have I ever been drunk or experienced a hangover, but all of that has to do with the fact that #1 I’ve been educated on the effects of alcohol and #2 I’m not self destructive, and therefore have no desire to test my limit. I think parents also have to play their part in resolving this problem. They should teach their children to respect themselves and their bodies, because I assure you if more people had any kind of respect for themselves, they wouldn’t be contaminating their insides with alcohol or any toxins for that matter. In addition, emphasis should also be placed on teaching kids to respect one another, because if an adolescent doesn’t learn to value his peers, do you really believe he’s going to question how his reckless behavior might affect another person? Hell no!
    The issue isn’t at all about age limitations or freedoms, it’s about common sense, self respect, and the considerations of other people.

    As far as the comparison between the legal drinking age and enlisting in the army is concerned…
    All people know laws are (generally) implemented for the safety of all people, but there are always going to be those who with disregard to others, WILL break them. Changing the legal drinking age from 21 to 18 isn’t going to stop someone from breaking that law. We’ll simply find that even younger kids will pose as 18 yr olds to purchase alcohol. In what way does THAT help? I can see it now: kids who’ve just attained their DLs getting behind the wheel while intoxicated. Yep, that’s a big step in the right direction!
    And WHY IN THE HELL would anyone give an incompetent 18 yr old KID a gun?! Nothing promotes destructive behavior more than violence. I personally would have less concern over a child with a beer in his hand than a child toting around a weapon. But heaven forbids that if we give kids enough time to develop the ability to reason, and understand that you can’t fight violence with violence, we will never develop an army to defend this pathetic country and its irrational attempts to resolve petty issues that are not deserving of any attention in the first place. But that’s another topic…
    To those college presidents who bitch and moan, I say: stop griping and do your fucking jobs. If kids are causing trouble with their drunken antics around campus, give ‘em the boot! Simple as that.

    I’m done.

  3. you also have to think on the eighteen year old point of view. If you can go and vote and if you can enroll into the army you should be able to sit back and tip a beer. i also understand the maturity level isnt quite great, but no matter what teens arent going to stop drinking. they will find it many ways. and i would rather my children do things in front of me then to go behind my back and get hurt, if parents know their child is drinking; they can make sure their children have rides and such.

  4. @jackie:

    Those are sound points, but I don’t think they’re anything that people who are against lowering the age haven’t already thought of. Visibility of their children’s vices is always a good thing for parents. Does that mean we should not fight any of our children’s vices at any age? Do we give our 13-year-old sons pornography to save them the trouble of surfing the Internet at their friends’ houses who have parents that work late? Or why not lower the drinking age to 15? Why should mid-teens be discriminated against?

    That’s because people somehow equate voting and joining the Army as having the same responsibility as drinking alcohol, which I disagree with for the reasons I’ve outlined in my article. From what I’ve seen on the Internet, no one seems to argue the smoking point, because I assume it’s widely agreed that alcohol is far and away a more (potentially) external destructive force than tobacco.

    As far as considering the point of view of an 18-year-old goes: I have. I don’t think waiting 3 years is bad for them in any way. It won’t deny them any alcohol because, as you say, teens are going to drink anyway. Knowing that, you can still take the normal precautions you mentioned with arranged rides and such. I just hope 18-year-olds are considering my point of view as well. The less kids walking/driving around drunk, the safer my family is.

    Lastly, one very important point that I think we should all keep in mind: Just because we can’t win 100% or even at all, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight for what we believe in.

    Thanks for reading.

  5. First of all, America is raising a bunch of pussies.

    How about spending all of the money that is spent on trying to win an unbeatable battle of underage drinking on EDUCATION.

    If all the energy and money spent on just trying to prevent people under 21 from drinking was spent on alcohol education there may actually be real results.

    Yeah, there are a bunch of stupid 18 year olds out there. Who do you think raised them?

    Kids in america are raised with the concept that they can’t think for themselves and have to be babied every step of the way.

    Think of it this way, if your dumb enough to drink and drive, and end up killing yourself, natural selection just took you out. I don’t feel the slightest bit sorry.

    I’m sick of America spending billions of dollars trying to prevent people from harming THEMSELVES.

    I guess 1/3 of americans really ARE retarded. Or is it more? This country is becoming more and more of a joke by the day.

  6. @Andrew:

    Thanks for reading.

    OK, take a breath. The country isn’t falling apart because of this issue. No need to blow it up bigger than it is. I do, however, agree with a few of your points. Parents really need to take more of an active role in their children’s lives. I also agree on not having sympathy for people who end their lives.

    My points of contention revolve around kids “thinking for themselves.” Sure, 18-year-olds can think for themselves, but will they make the right decisions? Are they capable of doing that? Do they even know what the right decision is? They don’t have any perspective. They will more than likely choose to explore alcohol simply because it’s something new and then use it as excuse to behave stupidly and hurt themselves.

    And others.

    Which is one point I think you’ve glossed over. If a drunk 18-year-old collides with another vehicle and kills your best friend, your mother or you, I get the feeling that you’d be all for the government trying to stop underage drinking.

    Tangent: This is precisely the same tactic that anti-smoking activists are using to persecute smokers. They realized that smokers didn’t care that it was bad for them so the idea of “secondhand smoke” had to be manufactured to make it a public health scare. While I don’t agree with the anti-smokers, this concept does manifest itself in a very real way with drunks.

  7. So its impossible to educate people not to drive drunk? And yes 18 year olds can think for themselves and can make the right decisions. The fact that they are taught from birth that they CAN”T is the problem.

    5 year olds are more capable than people allow them to be, 10 year olds, and 18 year olds are more capable than they are taught or allowed.

    This problem is much bigger than just underage drinking.

    It is a problem with our entire society. Think about it, clearly drunk driving is VERY dangerous. The laws regarding drunk driving are a joke.

    You get in as much trouble for being out past a curfew, smoking tobacco, or smoking marijuana.

    Why is it that someone who smokes marijuana in their own home can get in more trouble than someone caught driving drunk.

    Clearly the ZERO TOLERENCE, abstinence only, scare tactic way of education throughout america DOES NOT WORK.

  8. I’m 18 and as I do agree with some of your statements some I find insulting. Yes I do agree that people my age are immature I see it everyday at school but at the same time I see my mom’s friends and my family and they are just as bad if not worse. I think it’s insulting to limit this based on age. Also the whole people my age don’t vote I did happen to vote and I kept up with the political race because it is important to me and I know others who did the same. I’m not going to lie I consome alcohol not onm a regular basis but still it’s a time to relieve my stress of everyday life and just chill out. I believe the age should be lower and not just bcause I’m 18 and I would be legal but because this law sucks and no one is following go in any school and ask the kids if they have had alcohol I’m pretty almost everyone has and they have lived. Oh yeah and about that drinking and driving that is not just the underage crowd doing that and I’m tired of us getting blamed for that. I think the idea of 21 legal drinking age was given with the right frame of mind they did it to make us safe but in this day in age it’s more harmful than helpful. Everyone wants alcohol mainly because they are not allowed to have it…whenever us,me or even you do something bad it’s like this rush that you can’t help but want more of. By lowering the age your lowering temption. The worst thing you can tell teenagers is not to do something it makes them want to do it so much more.

  9. @Megan:

    Thanks for reading and thanks for being candid about your age. I don’t think you need to be insulted by anything I wrote. The figures on how many kids your age vote back me up. Good for you for following politics. 80% of your peers do not. I appreciate you posting your opinions here and I’d like to boil down your argument so that it’s clear:

    If the drinking age limit is lowered to 18, you will drink.

    If the drinking age limit is not lowered to 18, you will drink.

    So what do you care? You’re getting your drink on anyway!

    Furthermore, this idea that “teenagers only break the law and drink, because they’re told they can’t” is silly. Following your example, go to any high school and ask those students who drink (which is everyone, according to you) if they actually don’t like alcohol and just drink because they’re told they can’t. Seriously, have you been to a party and heard someone say, “Man, I hate alcohol. If only they’d make it legal, I’d stop.”

    Furthermore, if that is the reason teens drink, all the more reason NOT to let these morons do it legally! Imagine one of your drunk buddies getting into his car to drive home. “I’m too drunk to drive! But they told me I can’t drink and drive so I’m gonna do it! I’m a teen and the worst thing you can do is tell me is not to do something!”

    Next you’ll be telling me how they should make drunk driving legal so that teens don’t do it.

  10. I’m 20, I’ve never drank, though I’ve tried all sorts of drinks, a sip here and there at parties, they’re all GROSS! My college degrees will be in health education and environmental studies, so when it comes to damaging your body and wasting and energy and useful land to make alcohol,I find an absence of logic in consuming it. A drink or 2 per day can be beneficial for heart health, but not as much as eating right, excercising, maintaining healthy cholesterol and weight, and not smoking.

    So the drinking age, everyone is different in maturity. Perhaps what we need, is a drinking LICENSE! I’m not sure how the test might work, it can’t simply be a multiple choice, but there’s plenty of information about people out there, I bet they could work something out. Education, family situation and family history, discriminate on income even, the state or nation can see it’s incredibly financially irresponsible to drink and prevent the person from drinking (although this seems wrong because a lot of people may be banned for life, but it might encourage them to further their education).

    Increasing the drinking age would be best. 23 or 24 would be a good age, so that only a small portion of college students would be able to drink, since the 21 year olds are the ones that buy for the younger ones, even some high schoolers.

    We know that people are going to drink, regardless, it seems to be the main issue on changing the drinking age. Even with a drinking license, for those that prove to be responsible enough, (Like ones who are enlisted in the millitary? And vote?) people are going to find a way to drink.

    If people are going to drink either way, let’s take Andrew’s good point on EDUCATION! Make sure that every single student is aware of the risks of drugs and alcohol, starting in middle school or high school, and reminding them every year. Not only that, which schools do (mostly using scare tactics, statistics, and facts) but spend half of the anti-drug effort on HOW TO BE HEALTHY!

    We are taught what NOT to do, so then what DO we do? Physical activity reduces stress in ways alchol can’t compare (although being plastered seems to reduce everything, including intelligence). Eating right works wonders, increases energy, prevents you from feeling crappy where then people decide “Eh, I just feel like some cookies, pop, cake, some fast food, smokes, and a few drinks.” Every day!

    Regardless of what we make the drinking age, (I disagree with 18 AND 21, people these days simply aren’t mature enough. If they are, they choose not to drink, DUH!) the key to winning this fight is keeping kids from wanting to drink by the time they’re 18, 21, 24, whenever!

    Good article, nice responding to people who comment, don’t see that very much and that’s why I chose to post something.

  11. I am writing a paper on this subject so i find this interesting. I can go both ways on this. I do agree that most kids at 18 are super immature, but, so are adults. I’m from Wisconsin and I’ll tell you right now we have more problems with adults and their alcohol abuse than we do underagers. Like someone else mentioned, who do you think we learn our habits from? This day in age it is acceptable to be drunk. That is scary, i know, but its true. Any given night you can go to a bar and find slews of drunks, most 30-50 years old. How do they get home? they drive. i wish the idea about the drinking license would work. haha that’ll be the day. The issue i have with your article is the military standpoint. I’m 19 and I’m in the Army. I agree that it is a choice to give up your freedom. But without people like us, you would not be here. So you are telling me i can go give up my life for everyone elses freedom, but i cannot go out with my friends and have a drink? If i am mature enough to realize theres something bigger out there than my tacticle things, then dont you think having a drink isnt a huge deal? I know many people in the military are immature yet, but we are trained to have discipline. Maybe, the law for drunk driving should be strict. One offense and you are in jail for like 10 years. Done. That is not cruel and unusual in my eyes. I do not think kids in highschool should be drinking. That would cause mass hangovers and disaster. 19 is the age i am promoting. no, not becuase i’m 19, because you are out of highschool, yet you can vote and have ur other privaleges. The voting issue. I know many kids who did not vote. They do not care about the politics, so why would you want someone ill imformed to vote? many adults do not vote neither. It’s a part of life, most of us are consumers of our system instead of informed citizens.

  12. This is America, this is a free country built around rules. the problem is for the sake of every single persons safety, you cant truly be free. this problem is getting worse, to compensate everyone new stricter laws are being put into place. I dont think school should be mandatory, i dont think alcohol needs an age limit, nor smoking, or any illegal drug. in todays society the parents dont teach anything to their kids. alcohol should be legal for everyone, but your parents should teach their child how to respect themselves and those around them. today most kids do not respect themselves or anyone around them. but that doesnt mean the answer always have to be the government education system. classrooms are outdated, parents should teach morals, and if they cant allow god to do it for you. if a child is accustomed to alcohol, he/she can make the decision what they want to use it for, not because at 17-18 they were peer pressured into doing it somewhere where no parent knows where they are and drinking until they blackout

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