Lower the Drinking Age in America

Turn Your Child’s Water into Wine

It has been argued on countless occasions that the drinking age in America should be lowered. The basis for these arguments is that if one can vote for the president of the country, who determines the rules that govern our way of life, they should be able to drink; if one can voluntarily risk one’s life to defend the freedom of the country they love at war, they should not be bound to a limit on what they can consume. However valid, I will not be arguing from this stance. If these were the only criteria, then it would be just as effective to raise the legal age to vote, enlist in the armed forces, get married, enter legal contracts, be tried as adults, and serve on a jury. However still, this would be contrary to progress. I assert that the drinking age in America should be lowered for the sanity and health of the nation for even truer reasons.

Drinking alcohol is like driving. One does not simply sit behind the wheel for the first time and drive safely and immaculately. The learning stage is critical and essential. For this reason, citizens obtain a learning permit after passing a test on the rules of the road, then a driver’s license, allowing them to drive alone, after hours of practice with an experienced individual. By this time, the well-trained individual knows from experience not to step on the gas and accelerate into the back of a stopped vehicle; they know instead to decelerate or change their route to avoid the clog in the machine. It is undeniable that no one would dream of omitting the requirement of the critical learning permit stage, allowing young drivers to dive into the deep end without any practice.

Drinking follows the same premise. Adolescents that are neglected education on drinking in moderation are fifteen-year-olds jumping into the driver’s seat without a clue as to the operation of a car, potentially causing injurious or fatal harm to his or herself or the innocent bystanders around him or her. When these adolescents consume alcohol, more often than not, they turn to binge drinking. A far better option is to teach adolescents the principles of drinking responsibly, as with driving, and further hold them accountable for their actions.

Furthermore, a drinking age of 21 places a certain taboo on the practice, thus making it more desirable. Consider, for example, national prohibition in the 1920s, which was highly unsuccessful. The stringent regulation of alcohol consumption resulted in an increase in illegal consumption. People participated in underground activity because the expensive law proved to be essentially difficult to enforce. People are attracted to doing whatever is banned, especially underage alcohol consumption, and there is a certain thrill in breaking this law. Rules are made to be broken: the temptation is simply too overwhelming.

If teens and adolescents were allowed to drink small amounts in controlled environments, they would not be forced to do so in hiding, at venues such as parties and college dorms, where drinking is prevalent. Take, for instance, a teen that refrains from drinking until their 21st birthday, when they pick up an addiction to alcohol and overindulge in the substance as a way of making up for lost time, not knowing how to conduct themselves around alcohol. It is suggested that at a certain age, adolescents should be allowed to consume limited amounts in places such as restaurants or at home with their parents. This would teach them responsibility, and therefore safety, when drinking in a manner equivalent to giving a teen a learning permit before a license. Drinking would become a normal, culture-enhancing activity that can more easily be done in moderation.

My older brother for instance, has had too many encounters with binge drinking. From a budding age, since the beginning of high school, he made a habit of drinking at parties, fraternity houses, and other similar venues. This habit has proved incredibly difficult to shake. He has been charged with a couple DUIs, MICs, now has an interlock device installed in his car, and made an unsuccessful pass at an Alcoholics Anonymous class. He has admitted to the delight he gets from breaking the rules, and the adventure that spawns from getting around the roadblocks and navigating the loopholes. “It’s not the alcohol that is so great. I don’t like how it tastes, actually. It’s all about the experience,” he has told me on countless occasions. Once, while drinking excessively at a large party, the violent effects of the booze won the battle, and he came home noticeably injured. However, he refused to seek any medical attention, and to this day will not speak a word of what happened that night, for fear of retaliation of the law that he had broken. The legal consequences not only drove him to drink because of the thrill in breaking a taboo, but eventually caused physical harm that was not taken care of. Today, he still struggles with this unsafe addiction, and is only one of a large number of America’s youth that faces this tragic melee. Some suffer more fatal consequences as a result of the accidents caused by underage binge drinking—death of the innocent is too great a price to pay.

After my brother’s encounter with alcoholism and underage binge drinking, I vacationed in Paris, France with a school group. Among the many varied perks, many of my fellow travelers took advantage of the local, low drinking age. As this concept was entirely foreign, binge drinking quickly ensued and we all felt the repercussions. However, I could not help but notice the incredible control of the European teens. They were able to make a rational and safe choice on whether they wanted a small dose of intoxication to liven the evening or not. I sat down to speak with a French girl at a café—a completely enlightening experience. She was unable to tell me what the official drinking age in the country was, legally. “No one really cares,” she insisted in her impressively good English, “it’s just not that big of a deal for us.” She explained to me that alcohol is such a vital part of French culture, that families are not shy to introduce it to their children. It is an enriching—not dangerous—experience. The children, starting probably at age twelve, are typically welcome to share a glass of the region’s finest wine at mealtimes. In fact, on an excursion to McDonald’s, I spotted red wine on the drink menu! She spoke of how teenagers in France knew control over circumstances and responsibility for their actions. Because drinking was never given the stigma it has in the United States, it simply was not as appealing, in the sense of enhancing the party scene. It was a way to relax with loved ones while enjoying food, not a means of secretly drowning in alcohol and bad decisions at an unsupervised venue. There is no temptation to binge drink. The French girl asserted that French adolescents were civilized enough to know how to have fun and enjoy themselves without alcohol and all the dangers it brings. Perhaps she was on to something. Perhaps we should raise our children around alcohol in the same, nonchalant way.

One might argue that lowering the drinking age in America is inappropriate because of the immaturity of adolescents. Teens are inundated with physical adjustments, peer pressure, and unfamiliar conflicts and temptations. Perhaps allowing them to drink would make them more prone to substance abuse, unsafe sex, violence, and other perilous circumstances. It is also suggested that a lower drinking age might lead to an escalation in alcohol- related car accidents among teens. However, these observations are all made on the basis of a teen diving into the alcohol pool head first; to follow our analogy, they begin driving without the proper learning process. Additionally, if the number of alcohol-related crashes did increase, it would simply be a shift from the age group of 21-year-olds. And, they would not fear the repercussions as much, and would be more comfortable seeking medical attention.

Logistically, the drinking age of 21 is irrational and ineffective. It tells the youth that drinking is an emblem of maturity, driving the desire for minors to drink and, in their minds, prove themselves mature. This common fallacy would be dispelled with the lowered drinking age. I concede that alcohol has injurious effects that cause irrational behavior that could harm others. However, this has little to do with age. Alcohol is dangerous whenever anyone consumes it. The adverse effects of drinking irresponsibly can be felt by anyone—teen or young adult—and no matter how high the drinking age is, this is unavoidable. However, perhaps, if novice drinkers were educated and accountable for their actions, these accidents may decrease. If the money that went towards futile efforts at enforcing the law was instead dedicated to educating teens and adolescents on how to handle alcohol responsibly, we would witness signs of success both fiscally, in the reduction of numbers of alcohol-related injuries and accidents, and a drop in binge drinking. Should he have obtained a driver’s license after a period of carefully supervised learning, so to speak, maybe my brother’s life would not be tainted with this injurious addiction, and instead, his youth would be marked with responsibility and happiness.