For those unaware of the law, the legal drinking age in all fifty states and Washington D.C is universally twenty-one. Those under the age of twenty-one are unable to legally purchase posses or consume liquor under virtually all circumstances, save for a few exceptions (some states provide parents the right to serve alcohol to children in their homes, etc).
The law responsible for the universal drinking age was passed in 1984 as the National Minimum Drinking Age Act. The backing for the law came from politicians and the political action committee of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (M.A.D.D). Statistics secured by MADD and others in favor of raising the drinking age portrayed a disproportionat…
amount of drunk driving deaths involved (not necessarily caused by) those in the 18-20 age group. MADD claims the 21 law has saved an “estimated 25,000 lives”. Unfortunately the blunt reality of the present is the 21 law isn’t working. Take it from a 20 year old who has had open access to alcohol for almost 4 years. The 21 law isn’t a complete failure. It has been successful in creating a more dangerous environment for alcohol consumption, severely restricting personal freedom of those who are considered legal adults with the right to vote, promoting the outdated and already proven failed social policy of prohibition, and stifling federalism which was the system our country was founded on.
Driving is a privilege; it’s earned through a series of tests and confirmations overseen by the government, parents and friends. It takes months of testing, learning and actual practice under the supervision of parents and others who already have the experience and knowledge of how to handle a car. The reasons for licensing and testing drivers are obvious. Cars are dangerous and driving can be dangerous. You wouldn’t just hand the keys to a car to your son or daughter who just turned 18 and say “congratulations, you’re old enough…go out and drive!” Why do we do this with alcohol then?
We have driven alcohol underground. Teenagers are not taught how to handle alcohol. They learn how to handle alcohol in basements, dorm rooms and bathrooms at school dances. They often resort to drinking hard alcohol, because of the ease in transport (a water bottle) and the fact that 5 shots of vodka is easier to drink in a hurry before your mom comes home than 5 beers. Hard alcohol can be extremely dangerous, especially to teenagers who are unfamiliar with the consequences. I remember the first time I ever got truly drunk. It was in my mother’s basement when she was away. I was sixteen and all me and my friends had was 3 bottles of hard alcohol (tequila, whiskey and Jagermeister) because it was more economical to buy and easier to hide in my closet than 3 large bulky cases of beer. We got ridiculously drunk and I’m ashamed to say I woke up the next morning with no memory of a large portion of the night. The reason we drank so much was because we didn’t understand. No one ever taught us how to drink. Sure, we had education in health class about alcohol but even then, those are just percentages and video clips; there was no actual practice involved. It goes back to the driving example. You wouldn’t leave it to a bunch of instructional videos and maybe written tests to teach someone how to drive. That’s why we have driver’s education and parents who take their children to parking lots. The real world experience of those people is combined with the learned knowledge so the driver knows what they are doing when they finally get behind the wheel. Giving wine to your children for dinner is taboo in most households. Even talking about alcohol is considered off limits. The only “talk” a child ever gets is about how awful and miserable it is, and then they see mom and dad drinking beer at a memorial day BBQ having all the fun in the world.
Another point I wanted to touch on is just because the drinking age is 21 doesn’t stop those under 21 from getting alcohol. There are so many ways to get around this pathetically stupid law. There are fake IDs, store owners who don’t card, friends who are 21, the homeless man outside the 7-11, the “cool” uncle, the big brother or big sister, the older cousin, mom and dad’s liquor cabinet and even mom and dad themselves. It’s been 25 years after the law has been passed, and those under twenty are still drinking and we’ll continue to drink. It’s foolish to simply think you can legislate behaviors away. We tried it with alcohol before. It affected everyone. Now it is targeting a minority of citizens who are considered legal adults (18-20 year olds) with the right to vote. The social stigma around alcohol and the campaign financing that flows from MADD and other neo-prohibitionist organizations is enough to make it worthwhile for any politician to oppose lowering the drinking age. Furthermore, underage drinking has become synonymous with drunk driving. It’s considered an axiom in the minds of parents and other adults. In their minds the irresponsibility of youth mixed with alcohol will always result in drunk driving. They seem to forget adults drive drunk. It’s not like some magical rush of responsibility and sense occurs at the stroke of midnight when someone turns 21. It was easy to point the finger at 18-20 year olds. We bring nothing to the table in terms of politics. We have no money, no cloubt. It’s hard for a politician to favor lowering the drinking age because it sounds like “I support drunk driving, don’t vote for me or give me money”. The only positive side of this entire situation for me, a 20 year old, is whenever I drink a beer with dinner or let a new bottle of wine breathe I’m not only breaking the law but slapping every congressmen who voted to raise the drinking age in the face.