There are many different factors that have been identified as problems facing today’s youth. Among these is the problem of underage consumption of alcohol. Across the world, different nations have answered this growing problem by placing various prohibitions on which individuals can be allowed to purchase alcoholic beverages. Age limits were put into place. However, this is not applicable for all countries and the age limit even varies across countries that do apply this prohibition. The drinking age that is considered legal in 50 states of the United States as well as for the District of Columbia is 21.
Other countries, however, have legal drinking ages that range from 18 to 21. Some countries don’t even have a set legal drinking age, therefore ignoring entirely the need for this prohibition. It can be said to a certainty, however, that most of the ages that are considered to be legally capable of purchasing alcoholic beverages are usually below the age of 21. (Clark, 1992) Many debates have been conducted, however, as to the practicality of the 21 age limit. There are many who say that 21 is too high as a limit and that it should be lowered to an age that is lower.
Many contest that allowing individuals a choice on other things such as in national matters of voting at an earlier age surely indicates their capability to decide whether or not they can drink earlier as well. However, it is the position of this paper that the legal drinking age should indeed be 21. Arguments will be provided to support this fact. The actions of different sectors in an effort to address and resolve the problems that arise as a consequence of alcohol consumption by teenagers and the like will be analyzed.
The various consequences that underage drinking has reaped will also be enumerated. Finally, these will be analyzed and summarized to show that 21 is indeed the only choice as to legal drinking age. History and Actions Taken During the period of 1941 to 1950, it was found that only approximately 29% of teenagers were consumers of alcoholic drinks. However, in the fifteen years that followed, the percentage of teenage drinkers rose from 29% to 63%. In the period of 1966 to 1975, the percentage of teenage alcoholic consumers rose again to 70%.
The percentage perhaps only slowed in its rate of increase as a result of the introduction to this consumer group of other addictive substances, such as marijuana, which were several times more dangerous than alcohol. (Clark, 1992) Alcohol consumption by teenagers has become so rampant that statistics have shown exposure to such substances to be at earlier ages than expected. During the 1940’s and 1950’s, teenagers were noted to have been exposed to alcoholic beverages even at an early age of 13 to 14. During the 1980’s, the age range decreased to an average of 12 years old. Clark, 1992) These findings show the growing need to have underage drinking addressed.
The trend has been continuously towards greater alcoholic consumption beginning exposure at increasingly younger ages. Various sectors of society have taken it upon themselves to act upon the problem of underage drinking. The problem has become so rampant and the effects so evident that more and more individuals and organizations are striving to reach a solution. All of society has been affected by the woes of alcoholic consumption by those who are considered too young for the activity that the organizations involved are numerous and diverse.
The first and foremost institution to apply a course of action to stem the growing number of underage drinkers is the government. The laws of the United States that were put in place to set the legal drinking age were subjective for each state in the past. However, as a result of increasing traffic accidents by teenagers, several states amended their laws in the mid 1970’s and hiked up the minimum legal drinking age to 21. By 1984 all states were required, without exemption, through the National Minimum Drinking Age Act to impose the said age prohibition. (Clark, 1992)
Some schools and educational institutions have involved themselves in the fight against underage drinking by imposing policies prohibiting alcohol use within campus grounds. Citizen-founded social groups have also been in the forefront of campaigns against underage drinking. These groups lobby for stricter implementation of the minimum drinking age and for bills disallowing alcohol companies to advertise in certain ways that encourage the youth to experience alcohol earlier. Alcohol companies, also, have not been neglectful in their responsibilities to discourage teenage alcohol use.
Much of the advertising funds of these companies go to advertising campaigns aimed at reminding teenagers that alcohol requires responsibility. Owners of clubs and bars have taken part in the advocacy by ensuring that only individuals at the minimum legal drinking age can enter their premises. Some bars in Daytona, a hotspot for college students on spring break, require the wearing of bands or stamps that indicate the individual is already of legal age. (Clark, 1992) Why is it that so many organization and social entities have taken it upon themselves to act on the problem of teenage alcohol use?
The implications of the adverse effects that underage drinking brings are discussed in the following section. Consequences of Underage Drinking It has been found that underage drinking is the primary cause of many different problems and accidents today. Some of these are at a more personal and individual level, focusing only on the teenager performing the said behavior. Some have a bigger impact and have caused damage and sometimes even irreparable loss to other individuals in the community where these event occur.
Teenagers who consume alcohol at an early age are usually found to have lower quality of academic performance as compared to their peers who do not engage in the said activity. 40% of academic failures have been due to the alcohol abuse by the student. Also, many individual accidents have been caused by the unsupervised an uninformed use and abuse of alcohol. There have been many reports of individuals falling to their death from balconies as a result of drinking too much during a party.
Alcoholic binges with peers have led to many teenage accidents as a result of drunkenness. Clark, 1992) Also, greater health risks are involved for those who engage in consumption of alcohol at an early age. The physical consequences of drinking are more prominent in those who start drinking at an earlier age as compared to those who do not. However, although these are valid points of concern, the greater worry comes from consideration of what underage drinking has caused to those individuals in communities rampantly affected by teenagers engaging in alcoholic binges and the like.
It has been documented that deaths caused by traffic accidents are foremost in the reason for death in individuals within the age range of 16 to 24. The alarming factor found to cause half of the teenage traffic fatalities in the year 1990 alone was alcohol use or inebriation on the part of the driver. It is reported that when comparing teenagers and adults who have had three drinks each, the teenager has a higher tendency, by a factor of 20, to become involved in a vehicular accident. (Clark, 1992)
Alcohol use has also been found to be behind 70% of violence conducted on campus, 58% of attacks of a sexual nature also committed on campus, approximately 66% of damage to property found on campus, and 90% of deaths caused by hazing practices in campus fraternities. Alcohol use has also been linked to at least 50% of all the suicides committed by teenagers. (Clark, 1992) Why 21? The main attack of proponents against the high minimum legal drinking age assert that teenagers below this age limit are still able to easily acquire alcoholic beverages.
Placing a high age limit simply drives younger teenagers underground in their purchasing and consumption of alcohol. This prevents authorities and concerned individuals from monitoring and guiding their use of alcohol. These arguments, however well-intentioned, are misguided. Would placing a lower age limit prevent further underground purchasing and consumption of alcohol by even younger teenagers? The question that should plague these individuals, therefore, should be regarding proper implementation of laws and prohibitions regarding purchase and use of alcoholic bevereages.
The setting of the minimum drinking age has caused many favorable results in the campaign against teenage over-drinking. Fatalities caused by traffic incidents have decreased by 13% upon the implementation of 21 as the minimum legal drinking age. These statistics on deaths caused by vehicular accidents have decreased at a constant rate. Such accidents involving 16 year old to 19 year old teenagers have been reduced to 39. 1% from the years 1982 to 1990. Fatalities as a result of falling off of balconies have also been reported to have lowered with the introduction of a higher age limit.
Offenses on campuses that were previously linked to alcohol abuse were also found to have significantly decreased in occurrence. (Clark, 1992) It is clear that setting the age limit higher is an adaptive change for campaigns against underage drinking. Allowing only individuals 21 years old and above to buy alcoholic beverages has shown a decrease in overall alcoholic consumption of those teenagers of lesser years with their abstinence from alcoholic activity extending up to their early 20’s. (O’Malley & Wagenaar, 1991) Conclusion In conclusion, setting the minimum legal drinking age to 21 is more effective than setting it at a lower age.
The efforts of all the different organizations and entities involved in campaigns against underage drinking will simply be put to waste if age limit is set lower. There must be a clear stance across all fronts. Drinking is an act that requires responsibility and setting the age limit lower does not put this message across. A high age limit implies higher standards to be set by corporations involved in the manufacture of alcoholic products, by institutions involved in the selling of the same, and by social groups involved in disseminating information regarding the risks of alcohol consumption.
Teenagers should be prepared to abstain even before they reach the age of curiosity about the matter. Alcohol must be demystified and having a high minimum legal drinking age allows for a longer time period in which institutions may be able to more concretely impress upon a given individual the responsibilities involved when using alcohol. Overall, the age limit of 21 has proven to be highly effective and has been shown to reduce most, if not all, of the negative incidences that have been linked to teenage drinking.