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Several issues are evaluated before and during the enactment of legislations that aim to determine the legal drinking age. Such an evaluation has always been done for the purpose of ensuring that those who have attained the legal drinking age are old enough to make independent decisions. The capacity to make independent decisions is presumed to be important as it enables an individual to settle on when, where, and with whom alcohol is to be consumed (Disinformation Company, 2002). In the United States, there are instances where the minimum age at which an individual is allowed to buy alcoholic drinks varies from the legal age where the said drinks can be consumed. For instance, while legislations in most of the states set the legal drinking age at 21, there are instances where anyone who has reached the age of 18 can legally purchase the alcoholic drinks (Kay & Schwart, 2011). In 1984, the legal drinking age in America was set at 21, and this followed the ratification of a bill that demanded of the states to increase the age from 18 to 21 or risk losing the federal financial support on various projects.
Since 1933, the issue of the legal drinking age has been left to the legislative assemblies of individual states. Until 1970, the minimum drinking age in the majority of states had been set at 21 (Williams & Carter, 2010). However, after the 26th Amendment was adopted in 1971, the age was lowered to 18. The amendment prompted several states to repel the law that prohibited drinking until an individual was 18 years of age. By 1976, a total of 21 states had reduced the minimum drinking age to 18. Another 8 states reduced it to between 19 or 20 years (Sinnot-Armstrong & Fogelin, 2009). Upon the unprecedented age reduction, there was a noted increase in alcohol-related fatalities among the adolescents and young adults, especially on the American roads and highways. Consequently, 24 of the 29 states that had decreased their drinking age opted to rise the age to 21 (Krishnamurty, 1985). In 1984, the United States Congress enacted the National Minimum Drinking Age Act as it had been recommended by the Commission on Drunk Driving, a commission that had been appointed by President Reagan. The United States faced a loss of 10% of their federal highway funds if they recalled the raise the minimum drinking age to 21. Eventually, all states complied. Nonetheless, a significant number of them have been calling on the federal government to allow for the legal drinking age to be lowered to 18 (Maisto & Galisio, 2010).
The Argument in Favor of the Reduction of the Legal Drinking Age
Critics of the increased legal drinking age argue that the idea is contrary to the recognition of adulthood once a person has attained the age of 18 years. In this regard, the idea of rising the age is perceived to be a gross violation of individuals’ rights as adults, since by that time they are already allowed to participate in several other activities, where independent reasoning is paramount. These activities include voting and engagement in the military activities (Maisto & Galisio, 2010). To these critics, it seems illogical that one can be entrusted with duties of defending the country against enemy attacks yet he/she is perceived to be too young to make an independent decision. In addition, the idea is perceived to be the one that makes the 18, 19, and 20 year-old to have excessive drinking as they do it in hiding.
Drinking in hiding means that the individuals do not obey the laws that govern the conduct of an individual who happen to be drinking or drunk. For instance, there have been a rising number of cases of binge drinking on the university campuses as well as in several other communities across the United States (Krishnamurty, 1995). When these situations occur, it becomes difficult for the authorities to assist the victim as it would be very challenging to locate him/her. Some youngsters have died of conditions that would have been reverted through a simple medical attention. To the critics, therefore, it is important to allow drinking for individuals who have attained the age of 18. However, the critics fail to realize that instances of binge drinking cannot be tackled by lowing the legal age of drinking. This would only spread the problem to persons of lower ages.
Reasons why the Drinking Age Should Be Kept at 21
It Is Evident That Drinking at 21 Saves Lives
It is estimated that the number of deaths resulting from the consumption of alcohol are in excess of 4,600 per year. Most of these cases happened to people under the age of 21. Additionally, studies have indicated that by increasing the minimum drinking age to 21 did result in lower number of alcohol-related crashes and fatalities among underage youth (Sinnot-Armstrong & Fogelin, 2009). For instance, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicates that as much as 18,220 lives could have been lost on the highways between 1975 and 1998 had the legal drinking age not been raised to 21. In addition, it has been established that the action was responsible for a 19% net decrease in the number of fatal crashes which involved young drivers, a situation which implies the saving of not less than 1,000 young lives each year. This also reduced the number of deaths that resulted from other types of injuries, suicide, as well as homicide (Kay & Schwart, 2011).
Development of the Human Brain
Studies of the human brain indicate that the brain is an organ that continues to develop until one is in his early twenties. This serves to explain why an increase in the number of fatalities results whenever the drinking age is lowered to allow teenage drinking. These studies indicate that one cannot make independent judgments or weigh risks against the consequences before he/she reaches the early 20s (Institute of Medicine & DHBM, 1989). Initially, there was a common belief that an individual brain became fully mature by the age of 18. Nevertheless, recent studies have disproved this view. In fact, statistics indicate that individuals under the age of 25 are more likely to engage in many thrill-seeking activities than those who happen to be older. These individuals are not able to weigh the implications of their risky behavior.
Alcohol has an impairing effect on judgment. This effect increases the risk-taking attitude besides undermining perceptual and motor skills. The negatives effects are heightened whenever an individual happen to have an immature brain as in the case when one is in his/her teenage years (Breinbauer & Herrera, 2005). In fact, it has been proved that an early exposure to the effects of alcohol has far reaching effects on the individual in the long term. For instance, there are cases when one develops long-lasting deficits in his/her cognitive abilities, and this impairs learning and memorization. There has been a demonstrated lowering in the brain functionality when adolescents indulge in drinking habits.
Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Addiction
Alcoholism has been one of the root causes of a variety of medical and social problems in the United States. According to the statistics from the criminal justice system, at least 75-80% of those who commit felony under the influence of alcohol or drugs happen to be teenagers. A majority of these individuals commit such crimes in an endeavor to maintain their alcoholism and drug addiction. Alcoholism is also associated with the increased number of school dropouts as well as the decreasing productivity at the workplace due to absenteeism. Alcoholism does also heighten the level of medical challenges that individuals face, and this strains personal as well as the national resources (Trapp, 2009).
Alcoholism prompts individuals to experiment on drugs. In this regard, a significant number of observers are of the opinion that by raising the legal drinking age from 18 to 21 facilitates the elimination of the drug problem in the society (Breinbauer & Herrera, 2005). This is the case because the manner in which alcohol affects the brain of an adolescent varies from its effect on an adult. It is evident that the brain of an adolescent suffers alcohol-induced impairment to a larger extent as compared to that of an adult brain. The brain of an adolescent is, therefore, incapacitated when he/she is drunk, and the individual is unable to recall much of what is already known to him/her (Bonnie, 2004). As such, the onset of addiction may begin sooner for a teenager than it would be the case when the individual in question happen to be an adult. For instance, when teenage addiction may happen after a mere 6-18 months of regular drinking, adult addiction may not be witnessed until he or she has taken alcohol on regular basis for as much as 5 years. Teenage addiction hurts their future productivity and, by extension, the economic growth. Therefore, it ought to be avoided (Breinbauer & Herrera, 2005).
Contrary to the popular opinion, prohibiting drinking does not prompt the urge to experiment with alcohol and drugs. In fact, lowering the age of drinking would only avail an extra volume of alcohol to even younger population. This is due to the influence that the drunken 18 year-olds would have on the 15 – 17 year-olds. In other words, if 18 year-olds are allowed to drink, they will only be an inspiration to their younger counterparts (Breinbauer & Herrera, 2005). There is also the danger of the 18 year-olds availing alcohol through illegal means to their counterparts especially in the school environment. 10th-12th graders living in the states that have lower drinking ages drank considerably more and were, therefore, intoxicated more frequently than where the legal age of drinking was higher, according to the 1978 National Study of Adolescent Drinking Behavior. The study indicated that the young ones were less likely to resist drinking as compared to the older generations (Breinbauer & Herrera, 2005).
As it has been explicated in this paper, it is evident that increasing the legal drinking age minimizes the instances of misconducts and deaths that result from alcoholism. There is strong evidence to suggest a significant decline in the number of motor vehicle crashes that are caused by underage youth in the United States that have reviewed their legal drinking age (Williams & Carter, 2010). Therefore, there should be an enhanced enforcement of the laws that forbid the sale of alcohol to underage individuals so as to reduce the purchases by minors. It is also evident that in those states where drinking policies are tight, the rate of absenteeism as well as the number of school dropouts is minimal. Finally, since the legal drinking age has been set at 21 for a long time, there is no need to lower it at a time when various scientific research studies tend to suggest that it should, actually, be increased (Bonnie, 2004).