18 vs. 21

The drinking culture today attracts a lot of attention. Since 1984 the drinking age in the United States has been twenty-one. This law has been considered a “bad social policy and a terrible law.” There is a lot of discussion why a soldier can fight and die for the country and not enjoy a beer. I believe this poses a very interesting paradox. Furthermore I believe the drinking age at 21 has caused a culture with more binge drinking and reckless alcohol consumption.

If the drinking age is lowered, I suppose the college drinking atmosphere would be different since it would be less of a deal to drink heavily. I believe the drinking culture today is a result of deprivation. In Europe the drinking atmosphere is much more relaxed and ingrained in their culture. They don’t have the “drink to get drunk” mentality, instead they are used to enjoying a glass or two of wine with their families from a younger age. Adults or parents are able to demonstrate moderate drinking and teach young adults the mature way to drink. On my wine tour in Italy an Italian explained this concept to me. She says she has been drinking wine from a  young age with her family and it is considered a tradition and shared experience. She appreciates wine and has learned about wine and  how to pair it with certain foods. Drinking was more of a shared experience and practice, rather than an abuse. “Italian youths whose parents allowed them to have alcohol with meals while they were growing up are less likely to develop harmful drinking patterns in the future, according to a new study led by a Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researcher.” When the drinking age is 21, teens are less likely to initially experiment with older more experienced people. This can cause reckless behavior.


Choose Responsibility, a nonprofit organization founded in 2007, is dedicated to increasing the awareness of extreme drinking of young adults. This organization’s main objective is to change the drinking age to eighteen and educate people about alcohol. “They argue that the current law has driven underage boozing underground and into dangerous territory” (Drinking 18 vs. 21).  I agree that the drinking age should be lowered. The majority of kids who go to college will be 18 or turning 18 within a couple of months. Today the majority of college students do not turn 21 until their junior or senior year. This disparity in age causes more undercover, unsafe and rebellious drinking. If the drinking age is lowered, drinking can be more relaxed and social, rather than vicious.


10 comments on “18 vs. 21

  1. I understood the original impetus in the 1980s to be about trying to lower the incidence of drunk-driving fatalities. Did it work in that regard? I poked around only a little and it seems a mixed bag. One statistic I found interesting is that the number of traffic-related fatalities with alcohol among 16-20 year olds dropped, but increased among 21-23 year olds. This suggests that the lives saved by the law was less than it seems. Fatalities may have been postponed.

    I think our taboo-approach to alcohol existed before this law. You only need look at our history with prohibition. Hence, changing the law alone back to 18 would not do much to improve moderation. Whatever the law is, we need to find ways to promote moderation.

    Off the top of my head, perhaps possession should be less of a crime and intoxication the crime.

    Also, if drunk driving is the problem, then perhaps there are transportation solutions. Taxis run by bars?

  2. I think there is definitely a lot to debate in picking the legal drinking age and whether or not it will curb the abusive drinking for younger teenagers is hard to say. I do agree with your stance on the possible change in college drinking culture. My parents and I have actually discussed this a lot. They think it is crazy how much emphasis is placed on drinking in college now. When they were in college there were a lot less house parties and more bar time. They did not drink to get drunk but to relax and hang out with friends. Being able to get into bars definitely made this easier and more regular (not to mention more expensive). I know they are not representative of all college kids in the 80s but there is definitely a different vibe now.

  3. I grew up where there was no real drinking age. We have local stores we call ‘shops’ were parents would send their kids to buy alcohol for them. I felt as if i was more educated about alcohol because it wasn’t made to be this taboo subject. I often joke that at 18 in America you can get shot for your country but you can’t enjoy a brew with your comrades.

  4. I had a feeling that someone was going to choose this topic to write about. It is a very interesting issue and I completely agree that our current system has ushered in the binge drinking culture of today. Teens are going to drink if they want to and there is not much that a age requirement can do to change that. If the age is lowered, then the allure of drinking will not be so great and there will be fewer related incidents.

    • What I would like to see, if someone wants to track it down, is the amount of possession or use over time. The old bromide of :kids will drink because they always do” may be comforting to say, but how about some validation. I mean, I agree that with millions of 18-21 year olds, some will drink whether the age is 18 or 21. But if it is 20% or 70% is a big difference.

  5. I have heard the argument made that young adults are still developing mentally through early 20s and still are not as good at making judgements. This is supposed to justify the drinking age.

    So, they are not mentally developed enough to know when enough is enough, but they are to stand trial as adults, vote, and to have a gun or tank or airplane in their hands with the lives of others’ at the other end?


  6. I agree that a person who is considered an adult in nearly all aspects should be able to get a beer at the bar. The drunk driving aspect is the only issue with lowering the drinking age. I think the best solution would be to make the drinking age 18 but then make the penalty for drunk driving extremely harsh, like 5-years in prison for first offenders. Something like this might scare kids off the road after having a few beers.

    • You assume people make rational calculations about criminal penalties while under the influence, or in general….

      You would balloon the prison population if you did that.

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