They Say Age Matters
When teen-agers turn 18, they are told that they are adults and are sent into the world. They go to college, get a job, marry or join the military. They do grown-up things like vote, pay taxes and become parents. But they can’t go to the pub for a beer because when it comes to liquor, they are still just kids. Where’s the fairness in the 21-and-older drinking law?
First, it is necessary to question this law. Why is 21 the “magical” age that makes one intelligent and mature enough to consume alcohol? Surely, some adults abuse alcohol and some teenagers would be perfectly able to drink responsibly. This seemingly arbitrary number is associated with adulthood, as if the day a person turns 21 they know everything and are mature.
Consider that the drinking age at one time was 18 in some states. Many parents of today’s teenagers were legally allowed to drink at 18. Today’s youth faces even more responsibility and are treated more like adults than their parents were. “If we can still be trusted enough to fight in wars, if we can be trusted enough to vote for our leaders, if we can be trusted enough to have sex, then why the hell can’t we be trusted with a glass of wine” (Dogan 1). For these reasons, it would seem that the drinking age is out of date.
Today’s legal drinking age is also unrealistic. Prohibiting the sale of liquor to young adults creates an atmosphere where binge drinking and alcohol abuse have become a problem. Banning drinking for young people makes it a badge of adulthood, a tantalizing forbidden fruit. The thrill for drinking is in the chase of getting it. They are not allowed to have it, thus attaining it makes it all the more enticing. “College students are adults that are living away from parents for the first time in their lives and if they are told not to do something, that is exactly what they are going to do” (Dogan 2). When they have the opportunity to drink, they do so in an irresponsible manner because drinking by these youth is seen as a badge of rebellion against authority and a symbol of adulthood. Clearly, this kind of devious attitude does not encourage responsible drinking.
While young people in foreign countries learn to regard moderate drinking as an enjoyable social activity, young Americans view it as something they have to sneak around to do. If 18 year olds do not have legal access to even a beer in a public place, they are ill equipped to deal with the responsibilities that come with drinking when they do have the right.
The drinking age should be lowered because the current age has no real basis. With a lowered drinking age, fewer problems will be present. Safe drinking needs to be taught, along with drinking in moderation. All of the arguments for having a raised drinking level or retaining the current one are weak. The problems that make a drinking age limit necessary are better solved through a lowered drinking level.
Tightening the laws on underage drinking is wrong, as laws will still be broken and people 20 years, 364 days and younger will continue to consume alcohol. The answer to the problem of underage drinking is not to add more restrictions, rather, it is simple: get rid of the “underage” part.
With the thrill of breaking the law gone and the access to the bar granted, people, especially college students ages 18 to 20, would be treated like the adults that the U.S. Constitution says they are. A wave of moderate drinkers would emerge because it would become a societal norm for adults to enter a bar and have a drink at their own discretion.
Society must not look to reprimand and restrict, but rather to promote and accept. Treating legal adults like actual adults is the first step. “In the 1970’s the argument was: If I can be drafted to fight in a war, why can’t I vote on who decides whether I go or not? That battle was won, and the same type of argument holds here” (Dogan 1). Prohibition did not work in the 1850’s and prohibition for young people under the age of twenty-one is not working now. Based upon the fact that these current prohibition laws are not working, alternative approaches taken from the experience of cultures that do not have these problems need to be tried.
For example, in the Mediterranean regions, wine consumption with meals by all members of the culture evolved, and so too did a norm of moderation. Groups such as Italians, Greeks, Chinese, and Jews, who have few drinking related problems, tend to share some common characteristics. Alcohol is neither seen as a poison nor a magic potent. There is little or no social pressure to drink, irresponsible behavior is never tolerated, young people learn at home from their parents and from other adults how to handle alcohol in a responsible manner, and there is a societal consensus on what constitutes responsible drinking.
Therefore, given that the twenty-one year old drinking age law has proven ineffective, and is counterproductive, it behooves us as a nation to change our current prohibition law and to teach responsible drinking techniques for those who choose to consume alcoholic beverages.
Dogan, Shamed. “Connecticut should rethink its drinking laws.” 14 Feb 1997. The Yale Daily News, p. 1-2. http://www.high-ground.com/oped/drinkingage.htm (20 April 2000).