A common topic of debate throughout the last century is the legalization of alcohol. Different extremes on this topic have existed around the world from the prohibition in the U.S. to European countries like France which, to this day, have no laws about age-restricted drinking.
A rhetoric often-heard about laws concerning alcohol in the United States is that the legal drinking age should be lowered. This, however, is not a good idea. Lowering the drinking age would be destructive to society and jeopardize the safety of many individuals.
A point made by supporters of lowering the drinking age lies in comparing countries like France to the United States. Supporters often suggest that France does not have as many drinking problems as the US, because children are exposed to responsible drinking with their parents. Recent studies suggest, however, that drinking in European countries without age restriction laws is far from responsible. A 2010 study published by the Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention found teenagers in all European countries without age restriction laws surveyed drank more frequently than teens in the United States. The study also concluded that in the countries surveyed, “a greater percentage of young people report having been intoxicated before the age of 13 [than in the US].” These facts certainly do not point towards a responsible drinking culture in the slightest. Thus it makes no sense to assume lowering the drinking age in the United States would promote more responsibility.
Some suggest that the age restriction in the United States entices teens to use alcohol because of a “forbidden fruit,” (wanting something because you are not allowed to have it), scenario. They follow this argument with the theory that if the minimum age was decreased, teens would learn how to use alcohol in a more responsible way because it is not seen as the “forbidden fruit”. Not only is this idea incorrect— its execution can have deadly consequences. A 1972 study performed by Wolfgang Schmidt and Alexander Kornaczewski in Ontario gives insight into why this is. In 1971, the minimum age to buy and consume alcohol in Ontario was lowered from 21 to 18. Almost immediately after, Ontario saw a spike in alcohol-related road accidents among teenagers. The study concluded that “the data reported here constitute evidence that the relaxation of legal controls on drinking was followed by a rise in consumption and a rise in the damaging effects of drinking.” Although it was disproved by the first study mentioned, perhaps some will argue that after the relaxation of drinking laws a society needs time to re-adjust its drinking culture. But is this readjustment time really worth the unnecessary injury and death that will almost certainly accompany it? Hopefully, all can agree that it is not.
Alcohol has nothing but bad effects on the teenage brain. Alcohol’s effects on the developing brain include inducing learning and memory difficulties, leading to mental health issues. While it is certainly a bad thing that many teens consume alcohol underage, lowering the drinking age will do nothing to stop the epidemic.
It is also important to note the severity of alcohol as a drug and it’s harmful side effects. Binge-drinking and alcoholism take many lives each year. In fact, many experts suggest that if alcohol was pitched to the FDA today for the first time, it wouldn’t stand a chance of being approved for consumer use.
While it is easy to fall into the trap of believing the common rhetoric that lowering the drinking age will promote more responsible alcohol consumption, this is not the case.