Why Lowering the Drinking Age to 18 Just Makes Sense

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The past few decades have been rife with debate associated with the controversial proposal to lower the minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) to the age of 18. The federal government, through the passage of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984, set the nationwide age limit for the consumption of alcohol at 21. This act was passed, ostensibly, to lower rates of alcohol-induced driving accidents and to guarantee that only responsible adults were capable of participating in the purchase and consumption of alcoholic beverages. However, I argue that the MLDA should be lowered to the age of 18 for three principal reasons. First, the current age limit contributes to binge drinking by under-21s. Second, lowering the age to 18 would encourage young adults to drink in more responsible environments, such as bars and lounges. Third, it is incredibly hypocritical that adults under 21 are legally considered adults yet are judged unworthy of consuming alcohol. 

The federally mandated age limit of 21 is directly linked to the prevalence of irresponsible alcohol consumption, substance abuse, and binge drinking. Studies clearly show that the “intensity of binge drinking was highest among persons aged 18-24 years” (“Vital Signs” 15). Indeed, it is clear that the rate of binge drinking decreases as the age of the individual increases. Moreover, by setting the MLDA to the age of 21, those under the age of 21 creates a moral situation in which drinking under the age of 21 is seen as improper and taboo, thereby increasing the likelihood that individuals will seek self-gratification and identification through the consumption of alcoholic beverages. In addition, by lowering the drinking age to 18, the government will then remove the ineffective and “guilt-inducing” context that contributes so heavily to dangerous binge drinking of the under-21s (Jones and Lachman 141). Therefore, lowering the drinking to 18 would be an effective way to reduce the taboo culture that surrounds underage drinking, as well as reducing binge drinking rates. 

Reducing the drinking age to 18 would teach young adults to drink in more responsible and professional environments, and expose them to the health benefits of drinking wine. Given that “young adults would no longer have to drink behind closed doors to avoid being caught”, their first experiences with alcohol would be in professional, “supervised [and] controlled environments” (Jones and Lachman 141). This effect, in essence, would remove the need for young adults to drink illegally in conditions where their initial exposures to alcohol go unsupervised and undirected. If the age was lowered to 18, however, young adults would begin their relationship with alcohol in a professional and controlled environment that would teach responsible alcohol use and would reduce the rates of the dangerous practice of binge drinking. 

Lastly, it is hypocritical to argue that young adults cannot consume alcohol, when every citizen over the age of 18 is legally considered to be an adult and are thus capable of joining the military, signing legally binding contracts, and are subject to the full spectrum of legal punishments for infractions and violations of the law. Indeed, if “18-20-year-olds fight and die in a war, they should have the right to drink alcohol” (Toomey, Nelson, and Lenk 104). Denying legal adults, the right to drink based on their age while simultaneously allowing them to risk their lives for the sake of the nation is at best intellectually dishonest, at worst utterly hypocritical and without substance. Upon reaching adulthood and being endowed with the full rights and panoply of legal maturity should come the right to consume alcohol in a responsible manner. To do any less would be a rejection of legal equality for all citizens. 

Though the past decades have been highly controversial regarding lowering the drinking age to 18, it is clear that doing so would help to lower binge drinking rates, encourage young adults to consume alcohol in controlled and supervised environments, and remove the hypocrisy associated with the idea that 18-20-year-olds are somehow too immature to use alcohol, yet are responsible enough to enlist in the military or face full legal ramifications for their actions. Maintaining a drinking age of 21 is a historical relic that is unsupported by a growing body of evidence that supports the proposal to lower the drinking age to 18. Lastly, it is clear that lowering the drinking age to 18 is the correct moral and ethical choice, as to deny legal adults some of the benefits of their maturity is tantamount to depriving individuals of their basic rights.

Works Cited

Jones, Sandra N., and Vicki D. Lachman. "Continuing the Dialogue: Reducing Minimum Legal 

Drinking Age Laws from 21 to 18." Journal of Addictions Nursing 22.3 (2011): 138-43. Print.

Toomey, T. L., T. F. Nelson, and K. M. Lenk. "The Age-21 Minimum Legal Drinking Age: A Case Study Linking Past and Current Debates." Addiction 104.12 (2009): 1958-65. Print. 

"Vital Signs: Binge Drinking Prevalence, Frequency, and Intensity among Adults - United States, 2010." MMWR: Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report 61 (2012): 14-19. Print.