Lower the drinking age to 18

by Allison Kerper, Staff Writer

At Penn State University on Oct. 19 a senior in high school died presumably due to excessive drinking. He was attending an off-campus house party allegedly occupied by Chi Phi fraternity members, which resulted in the fraternity’s temporary suspension. On Nov. 6 a freshman attending San Diego University died at a fraternity party, resulting in 14 fraternities now suspended for “suspected misconduct.” Tragedies similar to these two are sadly becoming common, with such a prominent underage binge-drinking environment across the country.

President Reagan signed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act and raised the minimum legal drinking age to 21 back in 1984. This act was intended to protect teens across the country from the dangers of alcohol. Instead, it has achieved the opposite by diminishing parents’ and guardians’ roles in teaching safe drinking habits, increasing rates of binge-drinking, and fostering general disrespect for the law. Additionally, the law doesn’t make sense. It is unreasonable that 18-year-olds are legally allowed to vote for president, make arguably the most important decision of their life by getting married, and enlist in the military, but are prohibited from making their own decisions regarding alcohol.

The change in minimum legal drinking age has not had its desired effect. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that in 2015, 7.7 million teens, ages 12-20, reported they drank a significant amount of alcohol within the past month of the survey. Rather than learning to drink responsibly in safe environments, teen parties have been forced underground, where they abuse their access to alcohol. The same study reports 5.1 million teens between ages 12-20 engaged in binge-drinking within the previous month; 90 percent of the alcohol consumed by this group is through binge-drinking. Young adults within this age range drink 11 percent of all alcohol consumed in the United States. 

As a junior in high school, I see the negative effects of the current drinking age when my peers engage in binge-drinking. Setting the minimum legal drinking age at 21 reflects many peoples’ views that high schoolers should be exercising abstinence for years. However, this mentality is out of touch with what is really going on in teenagers’ lives. Teens are drinking regardless of the legal drinking age, and the current system only stands in the way of learning safe drinking habits. The CDC determined that from 2006-2010, alcohol played a part in 4,358 deaths of people under age 21 in the country. I argue that instead of sheltering teens from danger, the legal drinking age 21 prevents teens from learning how to act responsibly. In Canada, where the legal drinking age is 18, in 2018 only 3.4 percent of teens ages 12-17 reported heavy drinking. 

Moreover, the current legal drinking age discourages teens from seeking help because of possible consequences with their parents, the law, and school. Instead of going to the hospital or speaking to an adult if someone is sick, teens are forced to hide the issue. The results of covering up these incidents vary from waking up with a bad hangover to dying at a frat party because the police weren’t called in time. 

Raising the legal drinking age likely came from good intentions from legislatures and parents who believed they were saving lives. Unfortunately, what started out as a law to protect young people has been a complete failure. Not only does it seem contradictory to allow certain privileges at 18 while denying alcohol, but data indicates that the law is having the opposite of its intended result.