The United States has a long history with alcohol consumption. For better and sometimes worse, alcohol has been a popular aid in many social gatherings and events involving Americans. Currently however, only those above the age of 21 years are allowed to enjoy the privilege of drinking alcoholic beverages. This occurred in 1984 with the passing of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act within the Federal Highway Act bill (US Congress, 1984). The bill said that a 10 percent decrease of highway funding would take place in states that failed to raise the drinking age to 21 (US Congress, 1984). All states complied with the bill very shortly after it’s passing because the crucial need for highway funding. Nevertheless, this passage has been controversial since its inception in 1984. Data compiled in favor of increasing the drinking age is just a controversial and strongly contested. Therefore, the drinking age should be lowered back to 18 years old, because too much liability is placed on bars, liquor stores, and social hosts, little evidence points to adverse health affects due to moderate minor alcohol consumption, and finally all rights and privileges of adulthood are given at age 18 in the United States except for alcohol consumption.
First, the liability placed on bars, liquor stores, and social hosts has become a great burden in the alcohol industry. Vendors selling alcohol are required to properly identify the age of the buyer. However, this can be very complicated in the technological age that exists today. Fake identification has become a huge black market business as well as using the identification of those with a similar appearance. Minors are using fake identification to buy booze more than ever. Vendors should not be held accountable if these various forms of fake identification truly dupe them. A law review done on fake identification, also argues that placing all the liability on alcohol vendors is a lot to ask (Murray). Computers and the Internet have grown to an exponential use of fake IDs (Murray). Bar owners and liquor stores are turning away huge portions of their business just to comply with the law (Murray). It is not fair for the government to hold these vendors accountable and hurt their business. By lowering the drinking age back to 18, the biggest group of underage drinkers would be targeted. 18 to 20 year olds are the largest population of underage drinkers because they are college-aged students. They are the most likely to attempt to use fake identification. By lowering the drinking age to make these ages legal, the use of fake identification will decrease dramatically. Furthermore, it is not fair to hold vendors liable for the actions of intoxicated minors if fake identification is used to purchase the alcohol. Two cases examine this issue. First, in the case of Berg Vs. Zummo, the plantiff sued the minor defendant for damages caused during his intoxication (Berg Vs. Zummo). The case went all the way to the Supreme Court of Louisiana. The decision reached held that the bar was first and foremost responsible for serving the minor alcohol (Berg Vs. Zummo). It also declared some liability on the minor for his reckless actions. However, by lowering the drinking age to 18 years of age, the liability would be solely held by the intoxicated person in this case and not the establishment furnishing the alcohol. Thus lowering the drinking age further protects vendors in this regard. In another case, employees at a military base were held liable for serving alcohol to underage servicemen (US v. Dotson). The case of the United States of America v. Dotson Et. Al. upheld that vendors of alcohol are liable for serving to minors (US v. Dotson). Again, if the drinking age were lowered to 18, the liability in this case would have been avoided. All servicemen are age 18 and older. This brings up another important point. Those able to serve in our military and potentially die for their country should be able to consume alcohol. The rights and privileges of adulthood are given to all those aged 18 including servicemen and women. It is unfair to prevent them from drinking alcohol when they put their lives on the line for this country.
Although many people find alcohol as a valuable remedy after a long day of work, alcohol can potentially lead to addiction problems as well as other adverse health effects. A major point to note in the matter at hand is that not all individuals binge drink, or drink excessively during frequent times. The consumption of at least five drinks or more in only a two hour sitting is excessive, yet unrealistic to think that those who do drink alcoholic beverages, consume them so frequently. Drinking alcohol with companions is a social activity that can potentially be healthy for those involved. Although there is a lot of negativity on the subject of underage drinking, there are also many benefits from consuming small to moderate amounts of alcohol, even at the age of eighteen. Health benefits that can potentially be attained by indulging in casual drinking include reduced risk of developing heart disease, lowered risk for stroke, reduced risk of heart attack, lowered risk of gallstones, and reduced risk for diabetes (Mayo).
It is evident that many years of excessive alcohol abuse can cause serious neurological damage as well as other harmful health affects, yet there is still a lack of evidence that fully verifies how alcohol kills brain cells. Conversely, there has been scientific research and studies to demonstrate how it is somewhat beneficial to one’s own health. Scientific medical research has actually confirmed that the moderate consumption of alcohol is associated with better cognitive skills and memory than is abstaining from alcohol (Hanson). Moderate can also help the brain function better into old age. While alcohol impairs one part of the brain, another part of the brain that is involved in learning is actually aided by alcohol according to new research (Morikawa). Neurobiologist Hitoshi Morikawa of the Waggoner Center for Alcohol and Addiction Research at The University of Texas in Austin says that consuming alcohol primes specific areas of the brain to improve learning and enhance memory. "People commonly think of dopamine as a happy transmitter, or a pleasure transmitter, but more accurately it's a learning transmitter," Morikawa says. "It strengthens those synapses that are active when dopamine is released" (Morikawa).
The key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle while also being able to socialize with the consumption of alcoholic beverages is moderation. “The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that if you choose to drink alcohol you do so only in moderation – up to one drink a day for women or two drinks a day for men” (Mayo). With that in mind, the overall number of people that are actually consuming alcohol is in decline. Here at the University of Evansville, over 91% of surveyed students believe that the average student uses alcohol once a week or more, but only 21% of the surveyed students reported using alcohol that frequently. Teenagers across the United States are drinking less and less as well. In the thirty-six year history of the federal government’s annual Monitoring the Future Survey, consuming alcohol by middle and high school students has reached its lowest level (Hanson).
For many young people between the ages of sixteen and twenty-one, drinking is a staple of their weekend activities and life in general. These constant users and potential abusers of alcohol find access to alcohol in a variety of ways despite the United States’ legal drinking age being twenty-one. Much of society views underage drinking with a meager “out of sight, out of mind” approach. Unfortunately, the reality is that binge drinking does take place and is more prevalent on college campuses and with young people as a whole. A growing number of college officials are disputing the effectiveness of current drinking laws, arguing they have failed. These college officials feel instead of preventing students from drinking, the current drinking laws are facilitating underground underage drinking in an unsafe environment with dangerous extremes as the consequences. One college official trying to bring forth a change and lower the national drinking age is John M. McCardell, president emeritus of Middlebury College in Vermont. His proposal is for the United States to decrease the drinking age to eighteen but implement “drinking licenses” after completion of a rigorous alcohol education program. However, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) still opposes the lowering of the drinking age because they feel it would increase the number of young drinkers getting behind the wheels of their vehicles; in turn, increasing the number of harsh crashes and also fatalities. McCardell argues that the drinking age has very little to do with the amount of people who drink and drive and says if it were the case, a smarter option would be to increase the driving age to twenty-one (Giaimo).
McCardell founded “Choose Responsibility” in 1997. It is a nonprofit organization devoted to lowering the national drinking age and researching the effects the current law places on minors. McCardell feels his proposal will minimize the amount of abusive drinking that has become so prevalent in the past twenty years by acknowledging that eighteen year olds are adults in the eyes of the law in almost every other respect. McCardell has seen a reported increase in binge drinking by his students due to alcohol use being pushed into hiding. Two recent studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have shown young binge drinkers are increasing their consumption of hard liquor as their main source of alcohol since hard liquor is much easier to smuggle and remains much more inconspicuous in comparison to beer. Not to mention hard liquor being much easier to get intoxicated from compared to beer or wine. McCardell is logical enough to recognize the reality of alcohol in the lives of many people under the age of twenty-one. He feels lowering the drinking age would encourage more responsible drinking among this age group (Giaimo).
Another instance where the drinking age being lowered is in consideration is the state of Alaska. Currently, Alaska state Republican Representative Bob Lynn is proposing a bill that would allow people in the military under the age of twenty-one to legally drink in the state. While Lynn does not support drinking as a habit, he does feel that if someone is old enough to die for our country then they should be treated as adults in every aspect. However, a federal government mandate passed in 1984 requires all states to adhere to the national drinking age of twenty-one or forfeit ten percent of their highway funding from the federal government. For Alaska, this would mean losing $50 million of their current $495.3 million in 2010. Obviously, this proposal is going to be much debated with the risk of losing that much federal funding as an option.
"Alcohol Use: If You Drink, Keep It Moderate." Mayo Clinic (2011) Web. 19 March 2011. Berg v. Zummo, 763 So. 2d 57, 2000 (La. App. 4 Circ 2001).
Chakraburtty, Amal. "Teens and Alcohol." WebMD (2010) Web. 18 Feb 2011. Clark, Stephen. "Alaska to Consider Lowering Drinking Age for U.S." Fox News (2011) Web. 31 March 2011. Giaimo, Mellisa. "Alcohol Laws: Should the Drinking Age Be Lowered? ." ABC News (2007) Web. 18 Feb 2011. Hanson, David J. "Does Alcohol Kill Brain Cells?" Alcohol Problems and Solutions Web. 19 March 2011. Morikawa, Hitoshi. "Alcohol Aids 'Learning' Part of the Brain." United Press International (2011) Web. 13 April 2011. Murray, Christopher J. "Fake IDs: Can Bar Owners Sue If They Get Fooled?" Marquette Law Review (2005) Web. 18 Feb 2011. United States of America v. Dotson, 615 F. 3d 1162 (U.S. App 2010) United States of America. National Minimum Drinking Age. Washington DC, 1984. Web. 18 Feb 2011.