Let’s Reevaluate the Drinking Age

With the introduction of legislature to lower the drinking age in CA and MN, it’s time that this country rationally looks at the national drinking age. Since South Dakota v. Dole in 1987, federal courts have upheld the constitutionality of withholding federal funding from states that do not adhere to the national drinking age. However, the threat of the federal government should not limit political progress at a local level. Lowering the drinking age has social implications beyond just allowing 18 year olds to drink legally. America uses teenage drunk driving to argue the national age, but the pervasiveness of fake IDs already promotes an environment where underage drinking is expected. The discrepancy between the age of college students and the legal drinking age also perpetuates a culture of secretive binge drinking, encouraging irresponsible behavior. Furthermore, with the growing national attention on university sexual assault cases, Americans must not overlook alcohol’s frequent role in these awful situations. It is time to have drinking laws reflect current regional sentiments instead of the national positions of the 70s and 80s.

Proponents of the current drinking age constantly use underage drinking and driving as the main argument for maintaining the national age. However, with an increasing amount of Americans living in urban areas, it is unfair to use drunk driving paranoia to maintain a national drinking laws. Its asinine to say that an 18-year-old should not be able to drink in a major city because there is an 18-year-old in a suburb who relies on driving. Local governments should be able to pass drinking laws that reflect the attitudes of their constituents, and preserving a national drinking age merely prevents politicians from rationally looking at regional drinking ages.

The national drinking age also perpetuates irresponsible alcohol habits through its misalignment with the social reality. When college students show up for their freshman year, they must often complete some sort of alcohol education course. The university expects that the students will be engaging in underage drinking, but the law expects that students will not. Some schools, like the Claremont Colleges, have instituted “red cup” policies where students may drink openly out of red cups as long as their room door is open, but these strategies are rare.

Most schools seek a punitive approach to underage drinking and drinking in open areas, a practice intended to “keep students from consuming alcohol.” In reality, this practice simply confines underage drinkers to locked dorm rooms and off campus houses, where adult supervision is absent and hard alcohol is abundant. Since many Freshman, Sophomores, and Juniors cannot drink legally, binge drinking hard alcohol becomes a de-facto strategy for going to events, resulting in accidents.

This secretive drinking culture also fosters environments for sexual assault. Since students cannot drink in bars and restaurants, they must find find other locations. Fraternities and off-campus residences provide under age students with a place to drink comfortably, but these situations also pervert liability. If something else criminal happens happens at a party, will the host be held criminally accountable? Does an intoxicated, underage student, fearing repercussion from the university, really want to call the police to a party? Students do not treat college parties like “the real world.” This is not a bar where security can handle a pervert or management can see to it that unruly patrons are removed. These are parties where illegal behavior like drug consumption, underage drinking, and serving alcohol to minors is prevalent. This same behavior means that there are a lot of individuals who can find themselves in legal trouble if police are called, reinforcing an attitude where self-protection becomes more important than justice. According to the Annual Review of Public Health, there were 97,000 cases of alcohol-related sexual assault amongst college students 18-24 in 2001, and this number is likely higher due to stigmas against reporting alcohol-related sexual assault cases.

The national drinking age is far out of line with many Americans’ outlooks. Other countries have found ways to implement lower drinking ages, and the United States cannot continue to use our car-culture as the main reasoning for our drinking laws. The US is only creating a nation of pseudo-criminals by maintaining our drinking age, and if we want to tackle systemic issues like binge drinking and alcohol related assaults, it starts with finding a way to instill proper drinking habits in our youth.



3 thoughts on “Let’s Reevaluate the Drinking Age

  1. Very interesting post with a lot of content that is worth analyzing. I want to highlight your quote, “The university expects that the students will be engaging in underage drinking, but the law expects that students will not,” as I found this simple statement to be extremely profound. Underage drinking on college campuses is rampant to say the least, as reports claim that nearly 80% of students drink alcohol, when in reality only about 25% of students are 21 or older. On most campuses, there are little to no restrictions or regulations regarding underage drinking, as the issue is too large to tackle and over half of students would be punished. RAs and campus officials turn a blind eye to the issue of underage drinking, allowing students to continue extremely dangerous behavior to both themselves and those around them. With that said, I do not necessarily agree with the notion that the federal drinking age should be changed. If we change the drinking age because our current culture seems to oppose the law, doesn’t that mean that we should probably heighten restrictions and punishments to minimize the rule-breaking? If we change the drinking age to 18, what will likely happen is drinking will become more common in high school, and in 10 to 20 to 30 years, maybe the high school culture will include more drinking; does that mean that at that point in time the drinking age should be moved to 16 to satisfy the new “drinking culture”? Also, regarding the points made about the large amount of fake IDs in the US: do you believe that changing the drinking age will reduce the number of fake IDs in circulation or will the fake ID industry just find a new market with high school students who now have a better opportunity since they can most likely easily pass for 18? I believe that regardless of drinking age, individuals below the age will continue buying fake IDs, so the number won’t be minimized, the buyers will just shift to a younger crowd which doesn’t help the problem at all. Furthermore, the reasoning behind the 21 year old drinking age has much to do with the science behind brain development. I am no scientist, but I do know that the brain isn’t fully developed until your early to mid 20’s, and that is one of the primary reasons our legal system prohibits drinking alcohol before that time. It could be extremely dangerous to encourage 18 year olds to drink by changing the law by posing a threat to their brain development which our future as a nation relies on. I do, however, find it interesting when our drinking age is compared to that of other developed countries like countries in Europe and the country of Australia. The drinking age in these nations is 18, and it seems to me to be a healthier drinking culture than the rampant binge drinking that we see in America. I wonder if America’s problem has less to do with the drinking age and more to do with the lack of punishment on underage drinking as police and campus officials have become so numb to the issue because it has become the norm. I absolutely agree with your closing statement regarding instilling proper drinking habits in our youth, as I think this is the glaring issue at hand. Young people are not properly educated on the implications of alcohol consumption which leads to the rampant dangerous behavior that we see around the nation. I definitely want to continue research around this topic and am eager to see the political discussion that ensues over the next few years regarding the potential change in drinking age in the US.

  2. I think that you make a great point in dismissing; the danger of an increased number of drinking under the influence violations. Many opponents to a lowered drinking age insist that the number of DUI’s will increase, but will they? In conversing with people from countries which have an 18 year old drinking age, I have begun to believe the opposite would happen. They argue that with a lowered drinking age, parents are able to legally and properly teach their children responsible ways to drink. The serious likelihood of a DUI occurs when children drink under the table and hide their actions from their parents. Children are more likely to take any measure necessary to hide their drinking habits from their parents and this sometimes induces their resilience to call on their parents when they are indeed too drunk to drive. Young adults will prosper from a lower drinking age since they will have the opportunity to learn proper methods to drinking and will not have a reason to hide their habits from their parents.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *