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Lowering the Drinking Age in the United States


A major issue that the US faces now is teenage or under-age binge drinking. Binge drinking means heavy drinking for several days together. Today in the US, the term means drinking heavily at once, for example; five or more drinks in a row by men and four or more drinks in a row by women. Studies reveal that alcohol is a greater threat to the US youth than drugs. Around 3,200 deaths related to binge drinking and drunk-driving are reported every in the US. More than 16 percent of all alcohol sold in the US is consumed by under-age teenagers. The main reason for this condition is said to be the law which came into effect in the 1980s raising the legal drinking age. To be precise, in the year 1984, the National Minimum Drinking Act raised the minimum drinking age to 21, leaving out certain exceptional cases. This was a time when cases of binge drinking and drunk-driving were increasing the number of youth deaths. The aim of the government was to put a control over these mishaps.

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At this point, it must also be discussed why it is important to control under-age drinking. One main reason is the road accidents occurring due to youth drunk-driving. These accidents not only kill the driver, but often injure or kill the other innocent people on the roads. Apart from this, binge drinking follows fights between friends and family frequently leading to murders and homicides. Half-conscious teenagers sometimes even commit suicide for no particular reason. Many a time, it is found that these homicides and suicides wouldn’t have happened, only the person involved in it had not drunk. Youth death due to alcohol is six times more than from other drugs. Alcohol also leads to sexual assaults and date rapes in young people. Besides, binge drinking is found to affect their health heavily. Adolescent drinking causes brain damage, sometimes permanent thus affecting the intellectual development of the person. All these in one way or the other, change their lives drastically. The mistakes which are the consequences of heavy drinking cannot be corrected ever. Regretting later on, will make no difference in what ever has happened.

However, the trend in teenage alcohol use in the past 20 years shows that “the legislation has not achieved much in term of reducing alcohol usage by those under the age of 21.” (Pope, 2009). Approximately 11 million teenagers under the age of 21 still drink alcohol with almost half of them drinking to excess. It is found that boys on average begin drinking at the age of 11 and girls at 13.

The issue of raised drinking age in the US is of utmost relevance, since it is important to discuss if that is the reason for under-age drinking. There are varied opinions about whether or not to lower the legal drinking age. While the aim the government had in raising the drinking age is justified by many, a big percentage of the public vote for lowering the drinking age to 18. Only a detailed study about this matter will help in making a decision.

Lowering Of Drinking Age in the Us

Legal Adulthood Age

The failure of the government’s policy in controlling under-age binge drinking gave rise to a lot of debates about lowering the minimum drinking age to 18 or not. A large percentage of the population in the US support lowering the minimum age, because, 18 is the legally accepted age of adulthood. The present drinking age of 21 is accused of not fostering moderation to all ages. Under-age binge drinking happens because drinking laws — both the drinking age and the ”zero tolerance” policy for under-age drivers — do not foster moderation. (Teenage drinking, 2003). Lowering the minimum drinking age encourages the youth for responsible drinking. Less of binge drinking will reduce the road accidents and health problems in the youngsters.

The basic argument supporting the lowering of drinking age is that US citizens who are 18 are given the right to vote, the right to sign any contract and are forced to join the Selective service. Anyone who is 18, can marry. Any 18 year old who commits a crime or makes a wrong judgment is tried in the court, because he is considered capable of making right decisions at that age. If an 18 year old’s opinion can be counted in electing the leaders, if they can go to war, it is only fair that they be given the right to purchase, possess, and consume alcohol legally. According to James Torr, The law forbidding the 18 years old to drink is blatantly inconsistent as it considers the 18 years old as not mature enough to decide whether or not to take alcohol” (Teens and alcohol p. 29). People who raise their voice against the lowering of drinking age reason that an 18 year old will be less tolerant than a 21 year old. This might be true in theory. But very often, 15-18 year olds are seen more tolerant than their elders. The fact that alcohol is a ‘forbidden fruit’ to everyone under the age of 21, tempts many teenagers to try drinking basically out of curiosity. It is human nature to wish for anything that is not allowed or that is forbidden; especially in the teenage. If drinking is made legal by lowering the minimum drinking age to 18, at least some of them wouldn’t be tempted because they know it is not forbidden.

Many colleges support the lowering of legal drinking age to 18, with a strong belief that alcohol consumption and related deaths in colleges and other educational institutions can be reduced to an extent if it is made legal. Many students begin binge drinking when they are still in school. By the time they reach college, they become heavy drinkers creating trouble for the college authorities. Since drinking in public is not allowed for them, the authorities never succeed in finding and stopping them. There are also cases when junior students in colleges become rebellious. The fact that their seniors can drink when they are not allowed to, make them rebel against the college. They begin drinking in order to show their anger and indignation at being considered as small children. A major cause for the frequent reports of school and university violence is secret binge drinking by under-age students. Many college authorities believe that if drinking is legal, many of the students wouldn’t wish to drink. Also, the ones who drink will do it in public and the authorities can control them effectively. This might help in reducing the alcohol related violence and deaths in colleges and schools.

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Very often, youngsters wish to taste the ‘forbidden fruit’, because they are not sure as to when they would be able to get their hands on it again until the age of 21. As they get rare chances, they wish to make the utmost advantage of it and indulge in heavy drinking. Many European countries have a lower minimum drinking age than the US. China and Georgia does not have any legal drinking age. It is found that many of these countries with lower drinking ages have lesser troubles from under-age drinking. Wade says that, “the vast majority of world has set the minimum age at 16 or 17, while other doesn’t have a minimum age” (Lowering the Drinking Age to 18, P. 9). Similar prohibition laws have been tried in the 1850s and later on, in the 1920s. Both times the government has failed in reducing alcohol related problems. Again the 1980s law, too not only failed but also became the cause for rebellious binge drinking and uncontrolled violence and deaths. The present situation is worse than it was before raising the minimum age to 21. Alcohol related problems and the costs associated with them are ever more.

Since raising the drinking age did not make a difference, why not try lowering it to 18 for once? Many people believe that it will produce positive results by lowering the minimum age, because when alcohol is not forbidden, teenagers will not be as anxious to try it as they are now.

Responsible Drinking

It is generally believed by the people who support the lowering of the legal drinking age to 18 that it will enhance responsible drinking. Responsible drinking means that you never have to feel sorry for what has happened while you were drinking. Basically, this means not becoming drunk.” (Hints for sensible, moderate, and responsible alcohol consumption and party hosting, 2001). Majority of the college students below 21 years continue to consume alcohol irresponsibly as a way of rebellion against the law and as a symbol of adulthood. (Engs, 1998). Often times they drink large quantities than they would normally take if it was legal. Youngsters are always motivated in doing things that prove they are adults. Drinking alcohol by breaking the existing law is a way to show elders that they are old enough to handle things on their own.

Problems basically arise because teenagers drink secretly because it is illegal and also so that elders cannot control it. This makes it impossible to know when there’s an emergency like an accident. Parents or well-wishers are unable to know if a child is an alcohol user. Occasionally, health problems go unnoticed by elders because they are unaware that their child drinks heavily. “This makes binge drinking more dangerous as teenagers are less likely to seek help in case of an emergency resulting from heavy drinking. It is not the age alone that must be the factor in deciding the minimum drinking age. Teenagers are responsible at the age of 18. In fact, if alcohol is made legal to them, a good majority of them will develop a responsible attitude towards it. The fact that they can drink in public places itself, will improve the situation. Pubs, parties, and other public places can be watched by elders to control the youth in case they indulge in binge drinking. Such controlled environments under the supervision of elders will force the youngsters to stop drinking before it becomes to excess. Even the college authorities can effectively reduce the mishaps if the students start drinking in public. For this purpose, many colleges already send petitions to lower the drinking age to 18.

Amethyst Initiative is a collective organization of Chancellors and Presidents of various colleges and universities in the US. They suggest the lowering of drinking age to 18, since the raising of it to 21 has not paid off very well; rather it has produced worse results. (Statement, (n.d)). Studies show that 12-20 year old people are heavy drinkers even more than adults. (Drinking in America, 2002).

It is found that the percentage of all teenagers below the age of 21, who can be categorized as heavy drinkers is more than those above the age of 21. Among the total drinkers too, the percentage of under-age drinkers is more than legal ones.

The country with the highest legal drinking age is the US. The drinking age varies with each country, but remains mostly between 0 and 20. It must be noted that some countries do not even have a minimum drinking age. (Legal drinking age, 2007).

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However, studies found that the maximum number of fatal accidents related to alcohol are reported in the US compared to most of the other countries, despite their lower legal drinking ages. According to James Torr, “in countries like France, Spain and Italy, where there are very few drink related problems, early socialization to drinking is the norm and youngsters learn how to drink in moderation.” (Teens and Alcohol, p.32).

Making drinking legal at 18, gives the elders opportunities to keep an eye on the teenagers and explain to them about responsible drinking when necessary. Campaigns, public talks and classes will help the students understand the importance of controlled drinking and their responsibility to the society. The consequences of heavy drinking, including accidents and health related problems must be taught to them before the age at school level, so that they are encouraged to drink responsibly at younger ages. It is not their ages that matter, but their responsibility towards the society and towards themselves.

Safe Driving

During the last 20 years, there has been a slow and gradual decline in road accidents in the US. People who support the raised drinking age, claim that, the law of 1984 is the reason for the reduction in road accidents. In reality, the accidents reduced due to various other reasons like improvements in technology. Safer automobiles, education concerning drunk driving, airbag usage, designated driver programs, increased seat belt usage and lowered speed limits have helped in reducing the fatal accidents on roads. Though as part of their marketing techniques, many drinking establishments provide free taxi services to the customers. This too has nursed the reduction of accidents. It is true that the road accidents have reduced, but it is basically in the cases of adults. “The decrease in drinking and driving problems are the result of many factors and not just the rise in purchase age or the decreased per capita consumption.” (Engs,1998). The accidents that still occur are mainly because of the under-age drinkers who drink secretly for fear of being caught. Since they are not seen drinking in public, no one is able to control them from heavy drinking and drunk driving. As a result, they booze out and drive on the roads causing harm to others as well as themselves. If the drinking age is lowered to 18, they too will begin drinking in public. The elders would be able to restrict binge drinking and encourage responsible drinking. Along with it, the technologies which helped in reducing the accidents in the last two decades would cater to the younger ones, thus minimizing road accidents.


Although raising the legal drinking age from 18 to 21 was done by the US government with the best intention in mind, nothing much has been achieved in relation to teenage drinking. Young adults continue to drink heavily and dangerously in uncontrolled environment as a way of rebellion. Lowering the minimum age to 18 would result in more responsible drinking as teenagers will be allowed to drink in safe environment under the watchful eyes of responsible adults. Initiatives such as education on drunk driving, designated driver program and free taxi serves from drinking establishments would achieve more positive results than a raised drinking age.

Annotated Bibliography

Pope, Justine. (2009). College presidents want lower drinking age. USA Today. Web. 

The article by Justine Pope, reports that college students support the lowering of drinking age from 21 to 18. They say that since, raising the drinking age to 21 has not made much difference in binge drinking and road accidents, it is better to lower it to 18. They believe lowering it will reduce the excitement to drink more, because then the students will have no more anxiety to taste any drink. Studies given below show that there has been no great change in under-age binge drinking by raising it to 21 and so it is worth trying by lowering the drinking age to 18.

Teenage drinking: America’s problem. (2003). The New York Times. 2009. Web.

A letter which was published in the editorial of The New York Times, says that the current drinking law does not show moderation to people of all ages. The writer says that if it is lowered to 18, it will be more appealing to all the people, because 18 year olds are capable of taking decisions independently. The teenagers feel that they are considered as children when alcohol is made illegal to them. The fact that 18 is the adulthood age in the US supports this opinion. Studied facts support that there is a better chance in reducing binge drinking if it is lowered.

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Torr, James: Teens and alcohol. p. 29. (Provided By Students).

James Torr comments that the prevailing law is inconsistent, because it does not accept an 18 year old’s capability to decide whether or not to drink. Since, 18 is the adulthood age in the US, it is only appropriate to leave the choice of drinking to them. He says, if an 18 year old can marry, go to war and sign contracts, he can also decide whether he must drink or not. An 18 year-old’s opinion is counted in electing leaders for the country. It is not fair to keep away alcohol from them. A great percentage of the population including, college presidents, are of the same opinion.

J. Wade: Lowering the Drinking Age to 18. P. 9. (Provided By Students).

Wade. J writes that the minimum drinking age be lowered to 18, because most of the other countries have a lower or no minimum drinking age. Even with lower or no drinking ages, cases of binge drinking and road accidents due to drunk-driving are lesser in other countries. This shows that the criterion must not be the age, but other factors. It is found that 18 year old people are often more tolerant than 21 year old people. Studies find that the US has the highest drinking age and still remains one of the countries with maximum cases of under-age binge drinking and accidents.

Hints for sensible, moderate, and responsible alcohol consumption and party hosting: Hints for drinking. (2001). Trustee of Indiana University. 2009. Web. 

This article is taken from ‘Alcohol and Other Drugs: Self Responsibility.’, defines responsible drinking which later on, does not make one regret about anything that happened, at the time of drinking. A responsible drinker does not get drunk heavily. This means one must not drink or booze till losing consciousness, and creates troubles for others. Various hints for responsible drinking, like, knowing the limits, eating food while drinking, choosing quality rather than quantity are detailed. Following the methods explained in it, will help people to restrict themselves from drinking too much. It has great relevant because, responsible drinking plays a major role in reducing mishaps on roads and in families.

Engs, Ruth. C. (1998). Why the drinking age should be lowered: An opinion based upon research. Indiana University. 2009. Web. 

Ruth C. Engs, says that often teenagers below the age of 21, drink to rebel against the law and to prove that they are adults. He says, they indulge in binge drinking because, it is a ‘forbidden fruit’ to them. Anything illegal will be of more interest to the teenagers. Being considered as children is something which no teenager can accept. The situation will improve if the idea of lowering of drinking age to 18 is realized. Since the country has tried raising the drinking age twice before and has been unsuccessful, this opinion is convincing enough.

Statement. (n.d). Amethyst Initiative: Rethink the Drinking Age. 2009. Web.

The Amethyst Initiative makes a statement to support an informed public debate about the effects of raising the drinking age to 21 and to play constructive roles in initiating and inviting new methods to make the youth follow responsible drinking. Amethyst Initiative is a group of chancellors and college presidents who believe that effects of raising the drinking age are adverse, that there is still a dangerous binge drinking culture in the campuses. They pledge to initiate debates on the topic and invite new ideas. The earlier articles about the similar attitude of college presidents towards the current drinking age support this statement.

Legal drinking age: The solution. (2007). Alcohol Problems and Solution. 2009. Web. 

As the legal drinking ages in various countries are studied, it is found that the Us has the highest drinking age. Other countries, like Germany, France, Russia, Indonesia, South Korea and Japan have a lower drinking ages. A few countries like China, Nigeria, Poland and Thailand have no minimum drinking age at all. Still, Us is one of the countries with the highest rate of binge drinking and road accidents. It is also found that a majority of these accidents are fatal to the drivers and its other victims. Earlier articles, also claim that the US is the country with the highest drinking age which is ineffective in stopping binge drinking.

Torr, James: Teens and Alcohol, p.32 (Provided By Students).

James Torr explains that countries like Italy, Spain and France, report lesser cases related to drinking, which is because of their early introduction to drinking. He says, teenagers will not be anxious to drink heavily if the age is lowered to 18. Since 18 is the legal adulthood age, it is necessary to leave to them, the choice of whether to drink or not. 18 year old people are given the rights to vote, sign contracts and are forced to go to war if necessary. Giving the right to make decisions independently is important, since, once they are 18, they are adults.

Engs, Ruth.C. (1998). Why the drinking age should be lowered: An opinion based upon research. Indiana University. 2009. Web. 

Ruth C. Engs says that the decrease in road accidents has resulted not from the raising of drinking age to 21, but from various other reasons. Improved seat belts, safer automobiles, improved technologies, designated driver programs, increased air-bag usage and lower speed limits are the main reasons for this reduction, although the opposing people argue that it is the result of raising the minimum age to 21. This reduction is seen mainly in the case of elders. Under-age drinkers still create road accidents which take away not only their lives, but also many other innocent lives. All the improvements mentioned are proved ones, and the statement is strong and convincing enough.


Engs, Ruth.C. (1998). Why the drinking age should be lowered: An opinion based upon research. Indiana University. 2009. Web.

Hints for sensible, moderate, and responsible alcohol consumption and party hosting: Hints for drinking. (2001). Trustee of Indiana University. 2009. Web.

Johnson Alex. (2007). Debate on lower drinking age bubbling up. MSNBC. 2009. Web.

Legal drinking age: The solution. (2007). Alcohol Problems and Solution. 2009. Web.

Pope, Justine. (2009). College presidents want lower drinking age. USA Today. Web.

Statement. (n.d). Amethyst Initiative: Rethink the Drinking Age. 2009. Web.

Teenage drinking: America’s problem. (2003). The New York Times. 2009. Web.

Teens and alcohol. p. 29.32 (Provided By Students).

Lowering the Drinking Age to 18. P. 9. (Provided By Students).

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