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Open Editorial

Some Thoughts on Lowering the Drinking Age


       Recently,  there was a headline story that a bar in Bridgeport was busted for selling alcohol to numerous under-aged college students.  I’m shocked, shocked, that such a thing can happen these days!  Sure I am. 

     As far as I know, college students have always been fond of drinking alcohol.  I know that back in my own college days, some thirty-plus years ago, when the legal minimum drinking age was just 18, I certainly enjoyed having the occasional beer or two—and sometimes more. Drinking among college students at US colleges and universities is a time-honored tradition and rite of passage, and no rule or law is going to change that.  That’s just a cold, hard fact. 

      If anything, raising the minimum drinking age from 18 to 21, a change that took place some 30 years ago back in the mid-1980’s, has likely just made matters worse.  As a case in point, consider “binge drinking.”  Researchers who have studied this phenomenon have found that this problem has only gotten worse in the past 30 years or so, even though raising the drinking age to 21 was supposed to prevent this sort of thing from happening in the first place.  Furthermore, setting the drinking age at 21 gives young adults, particularly of college age, the idea that alcohol is seemingly some sort of “forbidden fruit,” and is therefore, somewhat paradoxically, particularly appealing, thus compounding the problem.

     The thing that is so preposterous about so-called “underage drinking” is actually not what many might at first think. Rather, what is really an injustice is that 18, 19, and 20-year-olds are not legally entitled to have so much as a single beer or glass of wine if they so choose.  Yet these are the very same 18 , 19 and 20-year-olds that the US government so eagerly sends to Iraq, Afghanistan, and other such hellholes to fight for, and possibly die for, our country.  But when these veterans come back to the states after a tour of duty—if they manage to come back at all—they are denied the legal privilege of ordering even a single “adult beverage” at a local restaurant or bar.  That is preposterous, and it is a disgrace.

    If we are to consider the minimum legal age for drinking alcohol, perhaps it would be worthwhile to compare that to the minimum legal age for certain other activities. What about the legal age for marriage, for example?  I believe that many would be surprised to learn that the legal age for marriage for both genders in the vast majority of states in the USA is 16—that’s right, just 16!  This assumes, admittedly, that there is parental consent.  Without parental consent, however, the minimum legal age for marriage for both men and women—that’s right, men and women, as opposed to “boys and girls”—is still only 18.  So someone can legally get married and start a family at the age of 18, but still have to wait another three years before legally being able to order a glass of wine with dinner?  If that’s not totally absurd, then I don’t know what is.

     And what about driving?  The minimum legal age for getting a driver’s license in the vast majority of states is only 16.  So a 16-year-old can hop in the car and take it for a spin.  That means trying to control two tons of rolling steel at 60 miles per hour, often in the dark, or rain, or snow. That same 16-year-old, however, has to wait another five years—almost one-third or his or her life—before he or she can legally drink.  Once again, utterly preposterous!

    When I was 18, way back in 1979, I could  drink quite legally and freely.  At that point in time,  all 18-year-olds could. And many, if not most, did. However, once MADD—Mothers Against Drunk Driving—started to pressure lawmakers back in the early 1980’s to raise the drinking age across the country, the legal drinking age nationwide soon rose to 21, where it has remained for the past three decades or so.  It is time to reevaluate this policy.

     The idea behind MADD’s push to raise the drinking age to 21 was based on the noble but misguided idea that a higher drinking age would cut down on traffic accidents and fatalities caused by drunk driving.  Although traffic accidents and fatalities due to drunk driving have in fact come down over the years, the reason for this is not so much the higher minimum drinking age, but rather 1) greater public awareness about the issue of drunk driving, 2) an increased police focus on combatting drunk driving, 3) increased judicial penalties for those found guilty of drunk driving, and 4) perhaps most of all, numerous improved automotive safety features—shoulder harness restraints, anti-lock brakes, air bags, etc.—that were more or less non-existent on most cars in the early 1980’s but are now pretty much standard on all cars on the road today.

     Americans should know by now that prohibition does not work.  When the US government decided to impose a complete ban alcohol back in 1920—regardless of a person’s age—this ushered in the era known as Prohibition, which is now widely regarded as a dismal failure.  Illegal “speak-easies,” where the booze flowed freely, proliferated, and most Americans more or less just kept on drinking as before.  After many futile years of trying to police this anti-alcohol policy, the US government finally realized the error of its ways and  just gave up on the whole notion, passing the 21st amendment in 1933 that finally repealed Prohibition. The vast majority of the nation celebrated.  Just as it was unfair and unjust for the government to ban alcohol for all Americans back in 1920, so, too, is it unfair and unjust for the government today to try to ban alcohol for those young men and women who are already old enough to drive a car, get married, and enlist in the military, among other things.

     As if all these points are not reason enough to restore the drinking age to 18, it may be instructive to take a look at the minimum drinking ages of various other countries around the globe.  Here are just a few places where the drinking age is 18:  Argentina, Australia, Brazil, France, Ireland, Mexico, Poland, and the United Kingdom.  In fact, in roughly 77% of all countries, the drinking age is 18 or less.  Any guesses as to how many countries, besides the US, have a minimum legal drinking age of 21?  Well, it comes out to just the following 11 countries (a number of which, by the way, I think many Americans might have trouble finding on a map):  Equatoreal Guinea, Indonesia, Iraq, Kiribati, Micronesia, Nauru, Oman, Palau, Samoa, and Sri Lanka.  That’s a very short list indeed.

     So, what do 77% of the countries in the world seem to know that we here in the US don’t?  It’s pretty simple, really, and I’ll tell you:  It’s that by the age of 18, boys and girls have transformed into men and women—young men and young women, to be sure, but men and women nevertheless.  They can drive, marry, have kids , join the military, and do all sorts of other things that grown-ups do.  Once you really consider all of that, it is not too much of a jump to realize that they should also be legally allowed to order a drink, whether at a restaurant, a bar, a party, or anywhere else.  It should be their right.


      We here at LowerTheDrinkingAge.org are working to restore the minimum legal drinking age to 18 across the USA, and we hope that if you support our goal, you will contact you political representatives to let them know that you believe that the drinking age should be lowered from 21 to 18, the sooner the better.  For more information on lowering the drinking age, please visit our website at www.LowerTheDrinkingAge.org.


Gene McKenna

Fairfield, CT

Founder and Director, www.LowerTheDrinkingAge.org

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