Underage Binge Drinking in American Legislation


In the United States, drinking under the age of 21 is prohibited by the law. Those who are below 21 are not responsible enough to know the effects that alcohol has on oneself and others. Apart from that, it is believed that consuming alcoholic beverages during the stage of development can hurt the body and mind. Still, despite the law, underage drinking has been an issue for years. Contrary to the popular belief, youngsters under the age of 21 drink less often than older people due to the restricted access to alcohol; however, when they do get to drink, they overdo it. Binge drinking can lead to violent, sexual, or any other type of behavior that can get out of control, and this issue illustrates the fact that anti-drinking legislation may have undesired side-effects.

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Legislation and its disadvantages

Binge drinking and other youngsters’ drinking habits are discussed by Wechsler, Lee, Nelson, and Kuo (2002), who emphasize the severity of the issue and conclude that harsher laws should be introduced to improve the situation. In my opinion, while the issue is severe (or because it is severe), the introduction of harsher laws is more likely to cause trouble, especially concerning those youngsters who are already involved. At the same time, the improvements in legislation effectiveness are less likely, which is why I will argue that harsher laws are the thing that should be avoided.

Wechsler et al. (2002) carried out a study by analyzing the data on American colleges and found out that underage students drink less often than their elder peers but tend to binge drink. The authors also investigated multiple aspects of underage drinking (in particular, its consequences) and the policies that have been created to address problems associated with underage drinking. Having researched the issue, Wechsler et al. (2002) conclude that the development and enforcement of underage drinking legislation have the potential of reducing alcohol consumption among college students (p. 235).

It is noteworthy that the authors do not insist that the correlation between legislation and reduction in binge drinking among youngsters is instant: in fact, their study indicates that the laws and related state expenditure have a relatively low and inconsistent impact on underage alcohol consumption. Still, their conclusion is explicitly stated, and it refers to the most convenient way of fighting underage drinking. The authors do not even try to consider their possible side effects or dwell on it more extensively. It may be assumed that the solution was not one of the aims of the study, but they have suggested one and emphasized it, and I am going to counter it.

My perspective can be outlined as follows. The legislation is admittedly effective to a point, and it is a viable strategy that is being used by our government and all over the world. Still, it has several limitations and is capable of endangering the youngsters who are already involved in drinking. At the same time, I think that concerning underage drinking, laws are relatively ineffective: many students go to college with a mindset on partying, and eventually, they will be exposed to alcohol. As a result, focusing entirely on the legislation and regarding it as the key method of drinking reduction is not very logical.

As it has been pointed out, alcohol experimentation amongst underage students has been a problem for years, which means that no laws have complete control over the issue. The transition to college is an exciting stage in a teenager’s life that is also full of temptations. Youngsters are exposed to new cultures and opportunities, including the chance to party the way college students have been doing for years. Apart from that, the students are revealed to low parental vigilance and a broad schedule. For some of them, this life alteration can be stressful, so they escape this stress with the help of parties and alcohol consumption. In general, the reasons for getting involved in binge drinking can be various, but the results are similarly disastrous, and throughout the years, many students have to deal with them. The negative consequences that are related to underage drinking include “personal injury, physical illness, high-risk sexual behavior, and death” (Ross & DeJong, 2008, pg.1). Many unintentional accidents occur, and research shows that around 1,700 students between the ages of 18-24 die each year because of alcohol consumption (Ross & DeJong, 2008). Besides accidents, many students have reported studying poorly because of alcohol consumption.

Given the severity of the issue, it is understandable why it is being attended by governments with the help of relevant legislation. However, this solution has several disadvantages. For example, the study by Fabian, Toomey, Lenk, and Erickson (2008) demonstrates that it is relatively easy for underage people to obtain alcohol by asking legal-age friends to buy it or with the help of fake IDs. In other words, these rules are very easy to break. The low effectiveness of these laws is another issue that is acknowledged nowadays. It is discussed in the article by Wechsler et al. (2002) as well.

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The authors admit that only two of the sixteen laws that they had studied affected college binge drinking in a statistically significant way (Wechsler et al., 2002, p. 233). Similarly, the attempt at defining the correlation between the amount of money spent by a state on anti-drinking law enforcement and the level of college binge drinking did not bring statistically relevant results (Wechsler et al., 2002, p. 234). The limited effectiveness of the legislation has led to the suggestions of lowering the legal drinking age, even though the model created by Rasul et al. (2011) indicates that such a solution is unlikely to deal with the issue.

It may be argued that harsher rules might deal with the first two weaknesses of anti-drinking legislation, even though a positive outcome is not guaranteed. However, if the laws are to become stricter, their side-effects also need to be taken into account. The major disadvantage of these rules consists in the fact that they are likely to dissuade students from seeking help. As pointed out by Lipperman-Kreda, Paschall, and Grube (2009), the legislation is capable of affecting the beliefs of youngsters concerning alcohol availability and dangers related to its consumption. These ideas, as the authors show, may play a significant part in the development of drinking behavior in young people (Lipperman-Kreda et al., 2009, p. 64).

Among these beliefs is the perceived severity of a punishment that has the potential of preventing youngsters from seeking help. At the same time, the work with the people who are already involved and affected is of vital importance for the reduction of the incidence of binge drinking (Clark & Moss, 2010). This work may include screening, treatment (for example, interventions based on hospitalization, counseling, and supervision), and it is always aimed at rehabilitating the person, helping him or her to give up binge drinking, and avoid returning to it in the future. In other words, with the help of these activities, the number of underage binge drinkers and, later, adult alcohol abusers reduces. However, this aspect of fighting against binge drinking is hindered by the laws that are meant to resolve the problem.

Suggesting to avoid getting involved in drinking is not valid in this case. It is a fact that youngsters are likely to be involved in drinking and binge drinking, and it is also a fact that this issue is encountered in different countries all over the world (Clark & Moss, 2010; Nguyen, Walters, Wyatt, & DeJong, 2011). Naturally, these facts do not strip the youngsters of the responsibility completely. However, it becomes clear that many young people need rehabilitation and are going to need it in the future, which means that access to it should not be restricted. Therefore, the introduction of harsher laws is not a valid option since it has the potential of further endangering the youngsters who are already involved in binge drinking and need rehabilitation. Since the eventual aim of the laws is to protect youngsters, this side-effect makes the idea of harsher rules pointless.


Naturally, it should also be pointed out that legislation is a preventive measure. It is not meant to take care of those who are already involved; it is expected to reduce their number forcefully. In the cases when the force is not effective (like underage drinking), it becomes quite powerless and needs to be complemented by other measures, including rehabilitation-directed ones. However, since the law uses force to ensure compliance, it is a dangerous tool that needs to be handled carefully. In certain cases, like that of underage binge drinking, making the rules harsher has more potential to harm than to help. Therefore, the promotion of legislation as a primary and key way of reducing underage drinking should be avoided.


Clark, D., & Moss, H. (2010). Providing Alcohol-Related Screening and Brief Interventions to Adolescents through Health Care Systems: Obstacles and Solutions. Plos Med, 7(3), e1000214. Web.

Fabian, L. A., Toomey, T. L., Lenk, K. M., & Erickson, D. J. (2008). Where do underage college students get alcohol? Journal of Drug Education, 38(1), 15-26.

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Lipperman-Kreda, S., Paschall, M., & Grube, J. (2009). Perceived local enforcement, personal beliefs, and underage drinking: An assessment of moderating and main effects. Journal Of Studies On Alcohol And Drugs, 70(1), 64-69. Web.

Nguyen, N., Walters, S., Wyatt, T., & DeJong, W. (2011). Use and correlates of protective drinking behaviors during the transition to college: Analysis of a national sample. Addictive Behaviors, 36(10), 1008-1014. Web.

Ross, V., & DeJong, W. (2008). Alcohol and other drug abuse among first-year college students. Web.

Wechsler, H., Lee, J., Nelson, T., & Kuo, M. (2002). Underage college students’ drinking behavior, access to alcohol, and the influence of deterrence policies: findings from the Harvard School of Public Health college alcohol study. Journal of American College Health, 50(5), 223-236. Web.

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