Teen alcohol use kills about 6,000 people each year, more than all illegal drugs combined (Hingson and Kenkel). Alcohol use by persons under 21 years of age is a major public health problem. Alcohol is a common used and abused drug among youth in the United States. Although alcohol is harmful to everyone, alcohol harms adolescents much more than adults. Adolescents are more vulnerable than adults to the harmful effects of alcohol on learning, memory, and judgment. The national legal drinking age of 21 should be maintained because alcohol use by adolescents damages the neurological development of the brain, cause psychological effects, furthermore, it will cause unnecessary deaths. The body and most importantly, the brain of an adolescent cannot perform to its full potential if its development is interrupted by alcohol. The national drinking age was placed because the brain does not fully develop until at least 21. This time marks a critical period for neurodevelopment. What alcohol does to the brain is affect the way neurons get their triggers from glutamate. It permits the glutamate receptors in the synapses, damaging their ability to send off their normal messages. Additionally, brain maturation takes place in the prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain controls judgments and weighing risks and consequences of this behavior. Not only that, but because of an adolescents inability to rationally think or make good judgments, they will most likely engage in heavy alcohol consumption which has negative health Hassan 2
affects that include liver and brain damage. Alcohol use affects an adolescent’s brain differently than it does an adult. A teenager’s brain is in different developmental stages and their body reacts differently to alcohol. Teens get drunk twice as fast as adults, but have trouble knowing when to stop (MADD). There are too many harmful effects of alcohol for it to be consumed by young people. Teenagers who drink will suffer blackouts, memory loss, alcohol poisoning from drinking (add a couple more health affects)! Teen brains are designed for maximum learning capacity and alcohol interferes greatly. Alcohol use before the full formation of the brain causes a decreased ability in memory, attention, and learning, all of which affect academic performance. Allowing teens to drink alcohol can result in academic failure because drinking leads to difficulty concentrating and memory dysfunction. Allowing adolescents to drink during these important developmental years will cause, long term, irreversible damage to the brain. Underage drinking causes unrepairable damage to lives. On the first day at her new school, Jenny felt everything went great. She made new friends and even got a date. She thought to herself. “ I want to be popular and I’m going to be, because I just got a date with the star of the team.” There was only one problem stopping her fate, her parents had said she was too young to date. With that in mind, Jenny decided to lie to her parents. She asked her parents if she would be able to stay the night at her friend’s house. Her parents agreed. Excited, she got ready for her big event, but she began to feel guilty about the lie but she said to herself oh well, it’s only a party. Jenny went to the party with her new boyfriend Jeff. After the party Jeff was drunk and decided to take Jenny home after a little ride. In the car, Jeff tried to make a pass at Jenny. Jenny did not want that at all, and asked for Jeff to take her straight home. Jeff drove off with anger and he accelerated his car and continued to go faster. Then all of a sudden she saw a big flash, and did Hassan 3
not remember the force of impact. She heard voices and she awoke in the hospital to faces so sad. They told her she was in a wreck and it looks pretty bad. They said Jenny “we have done all we can do, Jeff died and it looks as if we will lose you too”. They told her that the people in the other car also died. Jenny asked for them to apologize to the family of the people in the other car. She asked the nurse to tell her mom and dad she is sorry she lied. A few minutes later, Jenny had died. The other people in the wreck were Jenny’s mom and dad. Jenny made the wrong decision to get into that car with her boyfriend and killed herself and her parents. It is not just the drinkers who are affected but adolescents can also ruin the lives of others through their drinking, whether it is death caused by drunk driving or having relationships with family and friends destroyed. The vast amount of unnecessary death youth drinking causes is atrocious. Not only does underage drinking cause the life of many people it ruins the lives of the ones still living. The power and the choices that pertain to alcohol are far more dangerous than other rights given to the society at the age of 18. An individual of the United Stated is legally an adult at the age of 18 and are entitled to buy cigarettes, being drafted for war, having full income tax, and going to jail. The United States does not allow eighteen year olds to do multiple things such as gambling, clubbing, or buying and chewing tobacco until they reach the legal age of 21. There is a specific reason behind why 21 is the age to engage in these activities, because of the effects. Alcohol separated from any of the options is the fact that alcohol is the number one drug of choice for teenagers and alcohol-related car crashes are the number one killer of teenagers in the United States (Tiffin). The other legal rights are far less equal in comparison to that of alcohol. Trying to become an adult is a big responsibility, and putting alcohol in their hands will only make it a little more difficult to do. At this age they are still trying to have fun, enjoy life, and explore Hassan 4
adulthood. Placing alcohol in their hands to let them destroy their or someone else’s future is unnecessary. Teenagers will make thoughtless decisions while under the influence and will have to deal with the consequences. Since states began setting the legal drinking age to 21, it has saved more than 25,000 lives (Davis). This statistic proves that the law has lifesaving benefits. Alcohol, overall is harmful both to oneself, to others, and to society in general, especially to adolescents. Teenagers have not developed the psychological mechanisms that are needed to make thoughtful and logical decisions about alcohol use. “In fact, the earlier someone begins drinking, the more likely they are to be alcohol dependent in later life. More than 40 percent individuals who start drinking before the age of 13 will develop alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence at some point in their lives. Ninety-five percent of the 14 million people who are alcohol dependent began drinking before the legal age of 21”(MADD). Alcohol dependency will lead to addiction because a persons body will start building a tolerance to drinking and he or she will need to drink more and more to feel the same effects before. Lowering the drinking age will lead to even more experimentation, at an age when adolescents do not have fully matured cognitive systems. Cognitive maturity is needed for people to make logical decisions about their actions. Alcohol stops the person’s ability to make thoughtful decisions, and these affects are directly to underage drinkers. The national drinking age of 21 is based on the fact that young people react differently to alcohol. Teens get intoxicated faster than adults and have trouble knowing when to stop drinking. When teens drink alcohol, they will most likely overdo it and engage in binge drinking. A recent CNN medical segment stated “ Teenage binge drinkers are more likely to become adult alcoholics” and reported that a study had found that teen binge drinking was linked to an Hassan 5
increased risk for alcoholism. European countries have worse problems than America does, as far as binge drinking and drinking to intoxication. Europe has more injury, rape, and school problems due to underage drinking. Since alcohol is more available in Europe, it increases the proportion of kids who drink there (MADD). Teenagers have not matured physically to manage the physiological effects of alcohol. Youth who drink alcohol will experience physical problems, such as hangovers or illnesses. Furthermore, underage drinking is strongly associated with many social problems, including poor school performance, physical fighting, and lack of participation in youth activities, sexual activity and smoking. Teens are constantly undergoing physical changes, new situations and pressures, and allowing them to consume alcohol will make them even more vulnerable to depression, violence, and unplanned and unprotected sex. The cognitive and physical development of adolescents must be protected. As adults, they will hopefully make thoughtful decisions about drinking, but younger than 21, they lack the capacity to do so. Allowing teenagers to drink will lead them into becoming involved in situations governed by poor decisions. The national drinking law of 21 helps to keep teenagers from engaging in inappropriate and unnecessary acts. Underage drinking can result in long-term consequences such as unwanted, unintended, and unprotected sexual activity, as well as physical and sexual assault. Youth who start drinking at a young age will most likely take other risks. Same teens who drink early also tend to have sex early. Young women and girls frequently lose their virginity when they have been drinking. It is no surprise that when they have sex they forget to use a condom. Alcohol affects a teenager’s decision about whether to have sex or not and whether to use a condom or not and may lead to an unwanted pregnancy. When a teenager becomes pregnant, the pregnancy affects the teenager’s immediate life and future. Ashley would Hassan 6
not have chosen to have sex had she not been drinking at a party. Up until that point she had been proud that she had abstained from pre-marital sex. At the party one thing led to the other and after a few beers, she gave into the peer pressure. That decision changed her life forever. She is no longer involved with the guy he became intimate with. She is involved however, with their child, conceived the night of that party. Teenage pregnancy not only affects the teenager, their family, and those close to them, society becomes involved as well because the child is too young to be on their own and the care of the infant is absorbed by the public. Making alcohol available to adolescents will put them in danger for sexual assault such as date rape. Alcohol still remains the most commonly used date rape drug. One study found that 70% of women and 80% of men had been drinking when a sexual assault occurred (Yale). Alcohol impairs judgment and men will assume that women drinking are willing to have sex. They will interpret their behavior as evidence that she wants to have sex and will most likely attempt to have sex with them. Alcohol also impairs the victim’s ability to realize the dangerous situation. The 21 drinking age law Protects teens from getting into these harmful situations. The drinking law is in place to keep adolescents away from unnecessary dangerous situations. The drinking age should not get lowered because adolescents are not only physically or mentally not prepared, their brain does not fully develop until at least 21, furthermore alcohol is harmful to everyone, but it affects those under the 21 the worse. The brain of an adolescent is so vulnerable that even short-term or moderate drinking can impair memory, learning, information recall and socialization. At 15 or even 18 years of age, a teenager is unlikely to be able to think ahead and make decisions, and for this reason, the legal drinking age is in place before
development has reached its conclusion. A legal drinking age of 21 should be maintained because it would be in the best interest of the public’s safety, as well as today’s youth.