Lowering the Legal Minimum Drinking Age

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Adolescent Drinking: Is the Minimum Legal Drinking Age Effective?

Adolescents look forward to the day when they will be able to consume alcohol. Young people in certain countries can lawfully consume their first alcoholic beverage at the age of 18. However, in the United States, an individual must be 21 to lawfully purchase and consume any alcoholic beverage. Why the number 21? Is 21 still the age? Has the minimum drinking limit been reduced in the past? What were the results? Is it true that teenage brains are affected by alcohol consumption? Is the minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) regulation unsuccessful when there are so many underage drinkers? What are the dangers of underage drinking, and how can it be avoided? What are the various points of view on the topic of underage drinking? These are the questions that motivated me to examine this issue further.

Arguments For and Against Lowering the Minimum Legal Drinking Age

The MLDA Should Be Lowered

My first source is a paper by a professor from the School of Public Health in Indiana University. Ruth C. Engs enumerated the reasons for lowering the minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) based on extensive research. In her words, she says she has been involved in the study of "college age youth and the history of drinking in the United States" (Engs). I find her discussion credible because she provides counterarguments to the usual reasons given by those in favor of maintaining the Age 21 MLDA. In Why the drinking age should be lowered: An opinion based upon research, three main points argues for the lowering of the MLDA. The first point was supervised drinking. Engs maintains that "the legal drinking should be lowered to about 18 or 19 and young adults allowed to drink in controlled environments such as restaurants, taverns, pubs and official school and university functions". She explains that college students under 21 are already drinking, but in an "irresponsible manner" (Engs). Through the controlled environment, adults such as parents and teachers can teach responsible drinking through "role modeling and educational programs".

The second point in her paper was on the effectiveness of prohibition policies. Engs argues that "prohibition did not work then and prohibition for young people under the age of 21 is not working now". I find her explanation about the prohibition aspect very useful in my research because other materials I have gone through do not focus on this aspect. Engs emphasizes that the "National Prohibition in the 1920s and the state prohibition during the 1850s" did not work thus, these "laws were finally repealed". She said that "the laws were unenforceable" (Engs). Students under 21 are still drinking, even becoming binge drinkers. Another quote that highly supports the argument for lowering the legal drinking age states that "the decrease in drinking and driving problems is the result of many factors and not just the rise in purchase age or the decreased per capita consumption" (Engs). This statement is a counterargument for the often referred to studies in the 1980s that decreased drinking and driving related incidents. She also points out that such period showed an "increase in other problems related to heavy and irresponsible drinking among college youth" (Engs). She then provided statistics to support her claim for the behaviors resulting from irresponsible drinking. Engs concludes that "because the 21 year old drinking age law is not working, and is counterproductive, it behooves us as a nation to change our current prohibition law and to teach responsible drinking techniques for those who chose to consume alcoholic beverages". It highlights the reason why MLDA should be lowered.

The MLDA Should Not Be Lowered

My second source argues against lowering the minimum drinking age for health reasons. I find the study of Marissa Silveri very useful to my paper because her arguments are from a health perspective. She discusses the physical processes that take place when an adolescent drinks too much. Her study is also filled with statistics and scientific explanation that add credibility to the arguments. Silveri emphasizes that minimum legal drinking age should not be lowered because alcohol consumption has disastrous effects on an adolescent's maturing brain. Silveri represents the Harvard Medical School, and she explains that the brain shows a high level of maturation during the stages of emerging adulthood. These take place from the late adolescent to the early adulthood years or from 18 to 22 years old. Silveri notes that MRI imaging data shows rapid brain development in the emerging adulthood stages (2). This time of brain maturation puts the brain at a vulnerable stage, when it is exposed to the effects of repeated alcohol consumption. From age 18-22, the brain continues to develop its "cognitive processing and intellectual functioning" (Silveri 3). Full maturation takes place at age 22. Exposure to these effects can be detrimental to the brain which is still in its final stages of maturation (Silveri 4). Silveri explains that the younger the person drinks, the more tolerant he or she becomes to alcohol, thus a greater capacity for consuming more drinks. Such case may result in more cravings, which may eventually result in addiction.

Silveri gives a counterargument to the point made by Engs. According to Silveri "alcohol has been shown to have a greater impact on learning and memory prior to age 25, so it should not be assumed that learning to drink responsibly is a viable approach to reducing heavy alcohol consumption, particularly in light of the scientific evidence that alcohol itself impairs judgment and decision-making" (6). This information is very useful in my paper, because it gives the opposing view to the responsible drinking argument made by other authors. She also gives a possible connection between mental illness and underage drinking. The following datum is also a valuable resource, because the specific areas of the brain that relate to mental conditions are identified. She maintains that "while brain maturation is important for the refinement of decision-making capacity, alterations in the structure and function of the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus, regions that are likewise susceptible to alcohol effects, have also been implicated in psychiatric conditions" (Silveri 5). Silveri also noted that mental health problems, particularly depression and anxiety, are often prevalent during the college years (5).

The MLDA Should Be Lowered to 18

The third argument for lowering MLDA talks about being consistent in policies. When an individual reaches the age of 18, that person is considered an adult. As an adult that person gains the right to vote, legally drive a car, and sign legal documents. He/she is also recognized to possess the capacity to make responsible decisions. Drinking is a decision that an adult should be able to make on his/her own. As an adult, that person should also be given the right to purchase alcohol and drink responsibly. These views are shared by Elizabeth Geltman and Jeffrey Tucker. In her article, Lower the Drinking Age Back to 18: We Don't Have Students Teach Each Other to Drive, Why is Alcohol Different?, Geltman explains that "the 21-year-old age limit forces law-abiding young citizens to begin their encounter with alcohol usually two years after they graduated from high school when off living on their own". She questions why this should make sense for alcohol when "we don't do that with driving" (Geltman). Her article actually leans towards the "MLDA should be lowered" argument. The article of Jeffrey Tucker, The Drinking Age Should Be Lowered, Fast, emphasizes the view of more than a hundred school administrators who issued a statement that says adults who are less than 21 years old "are deemed capable of voting, signing contracts, serving on juries and enlisting in the military, but are told they are not mature enough to have a beer". When they decide to purchase alcohol, they find means of doing so and "by choosing to use fake IDs, students make ethical compromises that erode respect for the law" (Tucker). The points from these two articles are then used to support the third perspective.


In this essay, I explained the two opposing views about lowering the MLDA. Engs is for lowering the MLDA, because it will give parents and adults the opportunity to supervise their children and guide them to become responsible drinkers. Drinking would take place openly and in environments that are accessible to both parents and adolescents. This will lessen other disastrous consequences such as rape and brawls. She also notes that prohibition laws in the past were not working and the current one is also unenforceable.

Silveri, on the other hand, is against lowering the MLDA, because alcohol can have negative effects on the brain of adolescents especially during the maturation stage. The age of 18-22 is very vulnerable to the brain, because rapid development at the different parts of the brain takes place at this time. Increased exposure to repeated alcohol effects can have disastrous to the brain's physical development. Both sides have convincing arguments that involve the maturation of the adolescents physically and socially.

The third argument looks into recognizing 18 as the legal age for driving, voting, signing legal documents, and purchasing alcohol. This perspective is explained by Geltman and Tucker. They maintain that since the individual is considered adult enough to drive a car and choose his/her next president, that person should also be recognized as capable enough to decide whether he wants to buy an alcoholic beverage or not. All the points supporting these three arguments provide different perspectives on the question whether the minimum legal drinking age should be lowered.

As one of the steps to be considered in the further researches, I would recommend raising awareness on the outcomes of unconscious consumption which might be fulfilled through 'quick pediatric consult' by school counselors and 'brief interventions' by parents. The dangers of underage drinking are real; it destroys families and causes public health problems. It is a personal issue for every citizen, and only joint efforts are able to predict the undoable.

Works Cited

Engs, Ruth C. “Why the drinking age should be lowered: An opinion based upon research.” Alcohol Research and Health History Web Page, Indiana University. Bloomington, IN. Web. 15 April, 2017.

Geltman, Elizabeth Glass. “Lower the Drinking Age Back to 18: We Don’t Have Students Teach Each Other to Drive, Why is Alcohol Different?” The Huffington Post, 17 February 2015. Accessed 10 April, 2017.

Silveri, Marissa M. “Adolescent Brain Development and Underage Drinking in the United States: Identifying Risks of Alcohol Use in College Populations.” Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 20(4), 2012:189-200.

Tucker, Jeffrey A., “The Drinking Age Should Be Lowered, Fast”. Newsweek. N.p., 2017. Web.

7 Apr. 2017.

January 13, 2023

Law Government



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