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No one can deny that alcohol is a huge part of the American and global culture. Even looking into the past histories of countries around the world, one can see how alcohol and drinking have been integral parts to religious, professional, familial, and social life. Alcoholic consumption began for many as a symbol of friends and acquaintances coming together to simply enjoy life and “be merry.” However, in the United States, alcoholic consumption and the law have collided quite often in the past. Through Prohibition’s ultimate failure of banning the sale, transportation, and manufacture of alcohol and future amendments and acts mandating who should be allowed to drink in this country, the United States has surely been accustomed to controversies regarding the consumption of alcohol. The most recent and ongoing controversy regarding drinking is whether the legal drinking age should be lowered from twenty-one to eighteen. This is a huge controversy specifically relevant to college students, as drinking at American universities has grown to become a defining part of college life despite the fact that a majority of college students cannot even legally drink. It is clear through the prevalence and dangers of binge drinking among college students and the high percentage of DUI and alcohol-related accidents and deaths that something needs to change in this country.
Lowering the drinking age from twenty-one to eighteen would be an effective and beneficial step in changing the binge-drinking culture in this country, encouraging the safe and enjoyable activity of drinking alcohol, and allowing those of legal adulthood the opportunity to fully and responsibly make adult decisions.First, lowering the drinking age to eighteen will eliminate the thrill of breaking the law for eighteen to twenty-year-olds. The idea of being rebellious and breaking the law while still having fun and not harming others in the process is an appealing and exciting idea for many underage college students. With drinking being illegal for those under twenty-one and with the risk of “getting caught” always present and stimulating, drinking tends to become a more furtive act with it taking place in people’s dorm rooms, basements, etc. It is in these situations where drinking becomes the most dangerous, where pregaming, taking multiple shots in a row, and trying to get as drunk as quickly and efficiently as possible fosters binge drinking.
If the drinking age was lowered to eighteen, there wouldn’t be that thrill to want what we can’t have because it would be legal. In travelling to England recently, where the legal drinking age is set at eighteen, I have observed how Americans visiting, studying, or living in England who are in the eighteen to twenty-year-old range treat drinking completely differently than the eighteen to twenty-year-olds here. In England, those Americans treated drinking as simply a normal social activity because it was legal and there wasn’t that thrill to break the law; in contrast, I only witness the binge drinking and “Get drunk” mentality, rarely the mentality to drink in a relaxed and normal atmosphere for those under twenty one here in America and specifically in colleges.
Furthermore, those in the eighteen to twenty year old range are going to drink regardless of if it’s legal or not. The difference lies in the fact that if it’s legal, there is no peer pressure or temptation to commit something illegal so less risky behaviors and treatment of alcohol will result.Because alcoholic consumption is considered an illegal activity for people until they reach age twenty-one, oftentimes teenagers are never really taught how to drink in moderation beforehand and therefore are more likely to abuse alcohol and binge drink. While studies show that drinking levels among younger people (and the American population in general), are decreasing, younger people are more likely to binge drink when they do consume alcohol. It is shown that 42% of adults binge drink, yet more than half of those in the twelve-year-old to twenty-year-old range binge drink. In fact, binge drinking is highest among eighteen to twenty-year-olds, with 72% of those in this age range having had at least one binge drinking occasion. Binge drinking could be substantially lowered if the drinking age was lowered. This is because 18- 20-year olds would then be able to experience moderate drinking in bars, restaurants, and other venues where there is supervision. Since this is currently illegal under the law, 18-20 year olds are now forced to drink in unsupervised venues were moderation is untaught and binge drinking is encouraged. In fact, having the drinking age set at the age of 21 has not stopped drinking among the 18-20 year old age group, but has rather encouraged the movement of drinking to such unsupervised places were dangerous drinking behaviors are more likely to take place.
The legal drinking age being set at 21 simply perpetuates the lack of a moderating culture in this country. Oftentimes, parents dismiss the idea that they need to educate their child on alcohol. With a lower drinking age, more parents would feel responsibility to introduce their children to alcohol in the controlled environment of the household beforehand as a means of education and instruct them on how to use alcohol in moderation. A recent Penn State research study even showed a direct correlation between parents’ talking to their child about alcohol before entering college and subsequently lower rates of binge drinking.
Furthermore, whereas in other countries students and faculty can use alcohol in social and professional ways together, students in the United States don’t have the opportunity to learn moderating behaviors from professors, for instance, who have had experience with alcohol and can demonstrate moderate and safe yet enjoyable uses of alcohol. A lower drinking age exposes 18 – 20-year olds to a greater multitude of adults who can provide supervisory guidance over how to use alcohol moderately and therefore encourage less risky drinking behaviors.
The enforcement of the current legal drinking age is both time-consuming and overall inefficient; the money and time used towards trying to prevent underage drinking and catch underage drinkers is taking money away from programs and businesses that could use this money much more effectively. For instance, the money used towards enforcing the current drinking age could actually be used to educate 18-20 year olds on safe drinking practices.
Regardless of what the drinking age is set at, this age group is going to drink; approximately 3 out of 4 high school senior reported drinking alcohol at some previous point in their lives. So, if young adults are going to be drinking in spite of the law, the money used to enforce the law should then be used towards something more useful. In addition, arrests of underage drinkers are actually very rare; an estimated two of every 1,000 illegal underage drinking occurrences by actually result in an arrest likely because of the amount of legal paperwork that must be filed as a result and the relative low precedence of this crime compared to other crimes.
The money that goes towards enforcing the drinking age could then be used for law enforcement and protection of other, more serious crimes that happen in this country. Lastly, lowering the drinking age would be monetarily beneficial to the country overall. More people would be allowed to drink in businesses like restaurant and bars and allowed to purchase alcohol in stores, resulting in greater profit for these businesses. This would then allow the government to collect more tax dollars and would serve to greatly benefit the economy.
Lowering the drinking age brings up the idea of how adulthood is defined in this country. The age of majority, as defined by law, is the age by which one is legally recognized as an adult and is fully responsible for his/ her actions.
All states, with the exception of Mississippi, have their ages of majority set at 18 (a few states have ages of majority at 19 while Mississippi’s is 21). When one reaches the age of majority (usually 18), one can legally vote, serve on juries, get married, sign binding contracts, and join the military. All of these situations imply full adult responsibilities. Eighteen-year-olds are trusted to carry some of the biggest responsibilities in our country- voting for our political leaders, being able to enter into marriage unions that form the foundation of our country, and even defending on our country on the battlefield. Eighteen-year-olds are essentially allowed to carry positions of life and death, yet they don’t even have the right to buy an alcoholic drink if they want. If eighteen year olds are trusted with the aforementioned responsibilities, they should have the right to legally consume alcoholic beverages if they so choose. Lowering the drinking age to eighteen does not necessarily mean that all eighteen year olds are going to drink. However, it will give them the deserved right to be able to decide if they want to drink when they have the right to make other adult decisions and carry other adult responsibilities. In addition, as mentioned previously, the consumption of alcohol should be a pleasurable activity. Eighteen year olds are given the opportunity to engage in other pleasurable activities, such as purchasing lottery tickets or gambling when done in moderation, so they should at least be granted to opportunity to partake in the pleasurable activity of drinking. When a random assemblage of college students were asked why they believe the drinking age should be lowered, this was overwhelmingly the most popular response. Many opponents to the lowering of the drinking age argue that it will result in more alcohol-related accidents and deaths, especially while driving.
Drunk driving deaths have actually steadily decreased in the past thirty years. In fact, this trend began occurring since 1982, two years before the legal drinking age became twenty-one through the Uniform Drinking Age Act. It has shown that this trend occurred throughout all age groups and various other categories and therefore cannot be directly attributed to the drinking age. An estimated 90% of drunk driving deaths in the United States were found in the over 21 age group so drunk driving cannot be necessarily attributed to age. Furthermore, the amount of drunk driving deaths in the United States has decreased at a slower rate than that European of European countries that have their legal drinking age at eighteen or lower. As many people argue that lowering the drinking age is fatal, lowering the drinking age is actually going to save lives. This is because it will reduce the amount of people that become injured to due alcohol or that simply die because of alcohol poisoning who fail, or have others fail, to report their injuries to the police or the ambulance out of fear of legal consequences for underage drinking. Many states currently have laws that protect an underage person from the legal consequences of underage drinking if they go and seek medical attention; however, not many college students are aware of these laws and are still hesitant nevertheless out of fear that it may get back to their parents. Lowering the drinking age would make encourage those in the 18-20 year old range to seek medical attention for potentially fatal alcoholic injuries without fear of potential consequences for doing so, in turn saving the lives of many young adults, especially those in college. We are all aware of the drinking culture that takes place in this country.
Particularly among college students, drinking has turned into a dangerous practice that is the result of the excitement of alcohol’s illegality for most college students and the fact that public officials and adults use drinking as a tool to punish and prevent a potentially enjoyable activity among an age group instead of encouraging the enjoyable and safe practice that drinking can be for them. Lowering the drinking age, as exhibited around the world, can show how drinking can bring young adults and adults together in a fun, safe way instead of creating a disparity among them. If those young adults in the 18-20 year old range share the adult same responsibilities that other adults do, then having the right to choose to drink should be no exception. It’s time that alcoholic use, especially by college students, becomes a safe practice in this country instead of one whose culture lies concealed from sight and forced to grow uncontrollably and treacherously. It’s time that eighteen, nineteen, and twenty year olds finally be trusted as the adults we are considered in every other way.
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