Legal Drinking Age - MADD vs Colleges and Universities

I have had many conversations in regards to the drinking age being 21 in the United States and have been asked my thoughts on it being 18.  There are many pros and cons that are presented by many on this topic.  I have read many articles that have been written by members of MADD and others in regards to this.  I have my own thoughts on the drinking age and I suppose this blog is where I can share these.


Being a person who tries to see both sides of the story, I will share both sides as well.  Here are some thoughts in regards to those who believe the drinking age should be 18 years old.  I am using a few of the articles that were written by individuals of many ages, some younger and older than the legal drinking age of 21.


An intuitive article showing many sides of the argument was written by Jeff Karg, a student in college.  I have posted his article below and you can read it in the original location at



College life is filled with changes. It is filled with many new experiences. As college students, we are on our own, adults. As adults we are responsible for keeping up to date on information that affects us. One issue that effects college students nation-wide is drinking. The current legal drinking age in the United States is twenty-one years of age. The Federal government rose the legal drinking age from 18 to 21 in 1984. Even with the current drinking age at twenty-one, many people under that age choose to drink anyway. In fact, a government survey from 1996 showed that 56% of high school seniors reported drinking in the last 30 days(Hanson). With so many underage drinkers, many people believe that the drinking age should be lowered, stating that people are going to drink, regardless of the legal age. Still others see the high number of underage drinkers as a sign that the legal age needs to stay where it is and stricter laws need to be implemented. With the extremely high number of underage drinking, we can assume that the current drinking age is relatively ineffective, and therefore we must ask ourselves: should the drinking age be lowered, or should we revise policies to make the current age more effective? It is important to view all sides of the issue before deciding which side to be on. We must look responsibly at the issue instead of saying that the drinking age should be lowered, simply because we are under 21. The current drinking age has many debatable sides, or approaches which need to be examined. Those approaches include lowering the drinking age because the current policies don’t work, lowering the drinking age because it would lead to more responsible drinking, keeping the drinking age where it is because of alcohol related driving accidents, and keeping the age where it is due to the immaturity of people under the age of twenty-one.


One approach that many people who are concerned with the issue take is to lowering the drinking age because current policies don’t work. Most people taking this approach believe that the laws in place today do little or nothing to help or stop underage drinking, and in some ways even make it worse. “At the very least, American youth alcohol policy is ineffective. More disturbing, the drinking age may be counterproductive. It is applied so rigidly in most of the country that it precludes any attempt to teach young people how to handle alcohol responsibly.” (Hanson).


Many people feel that the lack of effective policies and the high rate of underage drinking could have been predicted. In the 1920’s and 30’s, the United States attempted a prohibition of all alcohol beverages. This was met with such hostility that it was very short lived. During the prohibition, organized crime rose dramatically, as did the sales of illegal or “bootlegged liquor”. Is it any surprise then, that the same thing has happened since the rise of the drinking age, but on a smaller scale? (Pickerington)


Many under the age of 21 are getting in trouble with the law in alcohol related incidents, which wouldn’t take place if the drinking age was lowered. Many underage drinkers drink in more dangerous places in order to avoid law enforcement. “… when these young adults ‘drink on the sly in unsupervised settings, they are more likely to drink excessively, more likely to drive while intoxicated, and less likely to seek help when someone needs it.” (Banister) This view is shared by Pickerington who stated, “Those who are younger than 21 have no legal right to drink alcoholic beverages and, thus must do so illegally is private homes and apartments.”


Those who feel that the drinking age should be lowered because of inefficient policies, simply want legislators and politicians to realize that underage drinking is going to happen regardless of what the laws are. “The National Youth Rights Association believes American youth alcohol policy should recognize the inevitability of alcohol consumption among youth and seek to reduce the harm of that alcohol use, rather than unrealistically try to keep young people from drinking at all.” (Hanson)


Another approach on the issue of the drinking age is the view that lowering the drinking age would lead to more responsible drinking. This approach basically states that a large part of the appeal of drinking alcohol underage is because it is illegal. If the age was lowered, alcohol would loose its “rebellious” qualities, and would lead to more responsible use. (Engs) It has been shown that those who drink under the age of 21 have more to drink at one time than those of legal age, resulting in irresponsible behavior. “Those under the age of 21 are more likely to be heavy - sometimes called “binge”- drinkers (consuming over 5 drinks at least once a week). For example, 22% of all students under 21 compared to 18% over 21 years of age are heavy drinkers. Among drinkers only, 32% of under-age compared to 24% of legal age are heavy drinkers.” (Engs) If the drinking age was lowered, fewer people might be heavy drinkers.


Greg Wilson, staff writer for the New York Daily News, agrees that with a lower drinking age would come more responsible drinking. Wilson cites Brooklyn Assemblyman, Felix Ortiz as saying that the drinking age should be dropped and alcohol education be increased. “Look, I’ve been to Europe, and I’ve seen kids there drinking wine with their parents,” Ortiz said. “Yet, they don’t seem to have the same problems with overindulgence. Why? Because they’re getting an education about alcohol from their parents and from their culture.” (Wilson) In a similar point, Dr. Ruth Engs of Indiana University, looks at other cultures such as Italians, Greeks, Chinese, and Jews who all had very few problems related to alcohol because proper use is taught at an early age from the parents.


A third approach to this issue is that the drinking age should remain where it is because of the high amount of traffic accidents that result from alcohol. It is common knowledge that driving while under the influence of alcohol can greatly impair ability, which can cause harm to those under the influence and also to others on the road. According to the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, 21.2 % of the 8,000 drivers ages 15-20 involved in motor vehicle crashes in 1998 were drinking and 13.8% were legally intoxicated. (Stoner) So if that many people were legally intoxicated and involved in car accidents, lowering the drinking age would only increase that number. With the higher drinking age since 1984, it is estimated that 17,000 lives were saved from 1985-1996 and a 63% decline in alcohol-related crash fatalities among young drivers. (AAT) Stoner admits that the laws concerning the drinking age cannot stop all people under 21 from drinking, however, he points out that many people do refrain from drinking until they are 21 and that amount of people, however small, can help decrease the driving accidents.


A fourth approach to the issue of the drinking age is to keep the drinking age where it is because people aren’t mature enough to drink alcohol until they are 21 years old. This approach consists of people who think that a person doesn’t fully mature either physically or mentally until around the age of 20 or 21, and for that reason, alcohol shouldn’t be legal until then. Legislators and lawmakers have made age restrictions for many things, including alcohol. No one can drive legally until they are 16, no one can vote until they are 18, and no one can drink legally until they are 21. If the drinking age is lowered, should the driving and voting ages also be lowered? At what point would it stop? (McArdle) Those who are elected to make decisions for the general population has decided that 21 is an appropriate age to drink alcohol, and everyone should accept their decision of the matter. (McArdle)


Another aspect of the maturity approach is that of brain development. Robert Kirby, writer for the Salt Lake Tribune, states that scientists once thought that the brain was fully developed when a person reached puberty, but it has now been discovered that the brain doesn’t actually develop fully until around 20-something. It has been learned that the prefrontal lobe of the brain is the last to develop and that doesn’t happen until around 20 years of age. The prefrontal lobe is the part of the brain responsible for self-control, judgments, and emotional regulation. It has also been found that alcohol does little or nothing to enhance brain activity and therefor is not beneficial and possibly harmful to drink alcohol before that time. For this reason, the drinking age should remain at 21. (Kirby)


The drinking age of twenty-one has been debated since it was instituted in 1984. Many people view it as ineffective and worthless, while others hold fast to the law and fight to keep the drinking age where it is. As college students, we are in the heart of the age group that is affected by this issue. Any change in legislation, means a change for us. It is important as college students to understand the different point of this issue, to make a fully informed decision regarding the issue. Whether we choose to drink or not, whether we are 18 or 22, the drinking issue is one that surrounds us.


Works Cited


Action on Alcohol And Teens. Lowering the Minimum Drinking Age is a Bad Idea. 1998. Oct 13, 2002.


Banister, G. Huntington. “Rethinking the Drinking Age” Letter. The Washington Times 225 words, 5 March 2002: A20.


Engs, Ruth C. Why the drinking age should be lowered: An opinion based upon research. 1998. Oct 13 2002. .


Hanson, D. J. .. Youth Alcohol Policy. 1997. Oct 13, 2002.



 Kirby, Robert. “Study Confirms Parents’ Suspicions: Teens Have as Much Sense as a Rock.” The Salt Lake Tribune 1 August 2002: E1.


McArdle, Paul J.. “A Lower Drinking Age Wouldn’t Lead to Responsible Alcohol Use” Letter. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 893 words, 9 June 2002: A6.


Pickerington, Matthew G.. “A Lower Drinking age Would Quiet the Riots” Letter. The Columbus Dispatch 296 words, 14 May 2002: 10A.


Stoner, Noah. “Dangers Abound with a Lower Drinking Age.” Intelligencer Journal 19 January 2002: A-4 .


Wilson, Greg . “Pol Says Drop Age, Educate Kids.” Daily News (New York) 15 July 2002: 1.




Another article posted about the statistics and reasoning behind the drinking age is posted at



A number of US states are considering legislation to lower the legal drinking age from the current standard of 21 - if only to allow troops home from Iraq to drink.


The move would defy a generation of federal law and public opinion in America which is strongly opposed to lowering the drinking age. In 1984, Congress set a uniform legal drinking age of 21, threatening to cut highway funding to states which did not comply.


Despite the risk of penalties, however, seven US states are exploring lowering the drinking age - partly for under-age Iraq war vets and more broadly in recognition that teenagers are going to drink anyway.


“If you can take a shot on the battlefield you ought to be able to take a shot of beer legally,” Fletcher Smith, who has sponsored legislation to lower the drinking age in South Carolina, told reporters.


Kentucky, Wisconsin, and South Carolina have introduced legislation to lower the drinking age for troops to 18.


Four other states - Missouri, South Dakota, Minnesota, and most recently Vermont - would extend the privilege to the general population. However, South Dakota would only allow 18-20 year olds to buy low alcohol beer.


Advocates of a lower drinking age argue that teenagers are still managing to drink, and that the secrecy encourages binge drinking among young people.


“Our laws aren’t working. They’re not preventing underage drinking. What they’re doing is putting it outside the public eye,” Hinda Miller, a Vermont state senator told reporters today, after a committee took up her bill to study lowering the drinking age.


“So you have a lot of kids binge drinking. They get sick, they get scared and they get into trouble and they can’t call because they know it’s illegal.”


But while the move would be popular with college students and other young people obliged to pay for fake ID if they want a night on the town, there is concerted opposition to lowering America’s drinking age.


Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other pressure groups say raising the drinking age a generation ago has cut traffic related deaths among young people by 13%.


States that do lower their drinking age would also pay a heavy penalty under current legislation that would require them to forfeit 10% of their highway fund from the federal government.



Joel likes: Why 21?

Mothers Against Drunk Driving


Some folks think 21 was pulled out of the air. But despite what you may think, there are some pretty good reasons that age 21 was selected.


Back in the late 1960s and early 70s a number of states lowered their drinking age from 21 to 18. In many of these states, research documented a significant increase in highway deaths of the teens affected by these laws. So, in the early 1980’s a movement began to raise the drinking age back to 21. After the law changed back to 21, many of the states were monitored to check the difference in highway fatalities. Researchers found that teenage deaths in fatal car crashes dropped considerably - in some cases up to 28% - when the laws were moved back to 21.


Like it or not, it is clear that more young people were killed on the highways when the drinking age was 18. Back in 1982 when the many of the states had minimum drinking ages of 18, 55% of all fatal crashes involving youth drivers involved alcohol. Since then, the alcohol-related traffic fatality rate has been cut in half! Research estimates that from 1975-2002 more than 21,000 lives have been saved. Hard to argue with that!


Ben likes: Back to 18?

Radley Balko/Reason


It makes little sense that America considers an 18-year-old mature enough to marry, to sign a contract, to vote and to fight and die for his country, but not mature enough to decide whether or not to have a beer.


So for all of those drawbacks, has the law worked? Supporters seem to think so. Their primary argument is the dramatic drop in the number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities since the minimum age first passed Congress in 1984. They also cite relative drops in the percentage of underage drinkers before and after the law went into effect.


But a new chorus is emerging to challenge the conventional wisdom. The most vocal of these critics is John McCardell Jr., the former president of Middlebury College in Vermont. McCardell’s experience in higher education revealed to him that the federal age simply wasn’t working.


It may have negligibly reduced total underage consumption, but those who did consume were much more likely to do so behind closed doors and to drink to excess in the short time they had access to alcohol. McCardell recently started the organization Choose Responsibility, which advocates moving the drinking age back to 18.


These are just a few articles and arguments that are out there in cyberspace in regards to the consumption of alcohol. Personally, I feel as though it all comes back to how a person is taught by their family and home life in regards to their thoughts and actions related to alcohol consumption.  Many of our ladies at Brookhaven Retreat have difficulties with alcohol consumption.  The majority of women use alcohol as a form of coping with negative experiences and feelings they are experiencing or have experienced.  These women use alcohol as a tool to numb their mind and thoughts in order to avoid deep rooted emotional struggles they are experiencing.  My question is would this change if the drinking age were lowered?  I really do not feel as this would be the case.  I would depend on how they were initially exposed to consuming alcohol.  Many individuals refer to Europe’s drinking age being 18 years old.  Europe does still have problems with drinking and negative experiences from over consumption of alcohol.  European culture and family structure is quite different from America’s.  Eurpoean families spend more time together and teaching children from young ages the proper morals, etiquette, and social responsibilities they will encounter as adults.  European culture appreciates the extended time and effort that goes into making liquors, wines, and beer.  It is something that is appreciated for its taste and how it can enhance the taste of other foods when paired correctly.  With this it is consumed in smaller portions.  However, there are still negative experiences with individuals, even in Europe, in which increased “binge drinking” occurs.  Again, some individuals use alcohol to cope with negative feelings and emotions and develop a dependency to the alcohol for assistance with the negative feelings.  Many use alcohol for self-medicating also.  Many individuals with depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and PTSD will use alcohol as a form of medicating to feel “normal”.  Ultimately, it will depend on the individual in regards to how alcohol will be used in their life.  Will they respect alcohol and appreciate the extensive care and detail that goes into the making of it?  Will individuals see it as a form of medications?  Will you see is as a tool for coping with life’s imperfections?


So, what are your thoughts?


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