Governors State University
The Legal Drinking Age in America: No Change Necessary
The debate of whether or not the minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) is appropriate in the United States is a constant battle. There are many beliefs that when a person turns 18 they should be able to legally consume and purchase alcohol since they are officially considered an adult. While someone may be considered an adult legally, that does not attest to maturity level or safety of the individual. The issues of safety, maturity, and the development of the brain all come into play when discussing reasoning behind the MLDA. The U.S. is only one of seven other countries to have a drinking age at 21, and for good reason (Hanson, 2013). Moreover, despite the fact that many countries adhere to a drinking age of 18, the United States should uphold the drinking age at 21.
In 1984, the drinking age was raised from 18 to 21 under the National Minimum Drinking Age Act (Alcohol Policy Information System [APIS], 2013). States were given the choice to either raise their drinking age to 21 or lose their federal highway funding by ten percent, with most states choosing to keep their highway funding. This act states that a person under the age of 21 is prohibited from publically possessing or purchasing alcoholic beverages with the exception of medical need as prescribed by a licensed practitioner, religious purposes, or when the person is with a parent/guardian over the age of 21 (APIS, 2013).
Although this law has been enacted for exactly 30 years, there is still an issue of underage binge drinking in the United States. A study conducted by Patrick and Schulenburg (2012) reports:
In 2011, 27 percent of 8th graders, 50 percent of 10th graders, and 64 percent of 12th graders reported having used alcohol in the past 12 months. The corresponding rates for alcohol use in the past 30 days were 13 percent, 27 percent, and 40 percent, respectively (p. 193).
Though these numbers can come as a shock to many people, they are surprisingly low compared to years past. Patrick and Schulenburg’s (2012) study also attests to a steady decline in underage alcohol consumption ever since the MLDA was increased to 21 (p. 195). It is nearly impossible to impede the issue of underage binge drinking, but when the United States changed their drinking age laws, it truly helped the issue at hand.
The United States is only one of seven countries in the world to have the drinking age at 21 (Hanson, 2013). However these seven countries are way ahead in the realm of underage drinking and preventing hundreds of issues that follow. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “the harmful use of alcohol is a global problem which compromises both individual and social development. It results in 2.5 million deaths each year. It also causes harm far beyond the physical and psychological health of the drinker” (2014). A primary reason the drinking age is safe at 21 is because of the human brain is not fully developed until around that age.
Our brain is essentially the most important organ in the body. It is constantly working as the center of our nervous system to sustain normal everyday functioning. The most critical times for the development of the brain are between ages 4-20 (Silveri, 2012, p. 190). Studies have shown that binge drinking before the legal age has detrimental effects on the still-developing brain. “Significant deficits in memory retention, greater cumulative damage than chronic exposure, and long-term changes in cognition” (Silveri, 2012, p.192) are all results of heavy drinking during adolescence. It only makes sense to give persons aged 21 and over the privilege of consuming alcohol as it is what is best for their brain and ultimately their livelihood.
In addition to physiological and developmental problems also brings about the issue of drinking and driving. In the United