By simply mentioning the “21 years and older” restriction in America, one is bound to receive passionate responses against it. The common arguments in opposition to the National Minimum Drinking Age Law of 1984 are the most obvious: 18-20 year olds can vote, buy property, work and essentially live as an adult, join the armed forces, but are stopped at the liquor aisle.
The most essential and repeated argument for lowering the drinking age is that 18-year-old individuals can enlist and die in military service, but they cannot buy or consume alcohol. This message is rightly received by many with a hypocritical edge; somehow a drink is more dangerous and harmful to someone under 21 than going off to war and potentially never coming back.
The Vietnam War and the drinking age don’t particularly seem to correlate; however, it was at this time that 18 became the official U.S. age of adulthood and the 26th Amendment finally gave the youth of America the right to vote.
The argument for the 26th amendment parallels the one now: those drafted in the Vietnam War and even as early as WWII, were usually too young to vote or drink alcohol. Through passionate protests against this discrimination, the amendment was passed and 18 became the age signifying adulthood in the United States.
Consequently, one could reason that the law authorizing adult status to 18 year olds was essentially used as justification for sending those same 18 year olds to war. Circling back to the drinking age, the same issue presents itself.
Adulthood comes with many new perks as well as responsibilities. For some as young as 18, it includes taxes, mortgages, jobs, insurance, military service, further education and freedom. This freedom should also extend to the ability to make and appropriately handle adult decisions, which includes alcohol consumption.
Such decisions are still being made every day across the country. Whether the law is in place or not, “underage” persons who are not technically underage will continue to drink. The real danger lies in society not giving them the safety net of drinking within the law.
There are a plethora of reasons to lower the drinking age to 18. A 2014 study showed that 65 percent of teenagers have had at least one drink by 18. Another study revealed that 90 percent of people aged 12-20 who bought alcohol consumed it through binge drinking, which is an extremely dangerous activity which can lead to stomach pumping and even death. However, operating under the fear of arrest, suspension and or expulsion from school, or even parental disapproval creates a fearful environment which can prevent measures to help underage alcohol poisoning victims.
The normalization and the destigmatization of 18 and up alcohol consumption could help young adults behave more responsibly and enjoy a drink in a healthier, more controlled environment, while at the same time teaching them about responsibility and decision-making.