Legal Drinking Age, Is 21 the Right Age?
The debate on the drinking age is majorly based on its health and social effects. Alcohol is one of the fermented beverages consumed by people and is as old as human history. Alcohol was discovered even before such common stimulants as coffee and tea. Thus, alcohol has been popular in societies for thousands of years even if it reduces efficiency of human functionality. Therefore, to control its effects on societies, countries have regulated the consumption of alcohol. Globally, some countries established the minimum legal drinking age at 18 years while others at 21 years. In the United States most states have established the minimum legal drinking age at 21 years. However, some states have other laws regarding alcohol consumption at home or under supervision of adults. The issues related to the relevance of setting the minimum legal drinking age and whether the age limit of 21 years is the most suitable age are debatable.
According to Carpenter and Dobkin (133), one hundred college students and higher education leaders petitioned through the Amethyst Initiative to reexamine the minimum legal drinking age in the United States. The arguments of the leaders were based on the age limits of the nearby countries such as Canada, Mexico and Europe where the minimum legal drinking age is 18 years. Further, they argued that limiting alcohol consumption to 18-to-20 year olds promoted reckless alcohol consumption by young adults. Based on these arguments, various states decided to review the minimum legal drinking age and to lower it from 21 to 18. Some of these states include Kentucky, South Missouri, South Dakota, Carolina, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Vermont. However, the law has not been ratified there yet. According to Pro Con (1), even with the existence of the minimum legal drinking age in the US (which is 21 years), there are about 29 States that allow consumption of alcohol on private premises with the parental consent; in 25 States persons aged 18 and above are allowed to consume alcohol for religious reasons, while in 11- for academic reasons.
According to Carpenter and Dobkin (135), regulating the age of alcohol consumption its consumption and impact on people aged 21 and below can be reduced. However, the reasons are not substantial due to the benefits of alcohol consumption. Thus, when analyzing the impact of alcohol consumption on young adults, key parameters such as age, health and crime come up.
Age and Alcohol Consumption in Young Adults
According to Carpenter and Dobkin (140), the relationship between minimum legal age and alcohol consumption is yet to be scientifically established. The major problem in establishing the relationship is the reliability of data. According to the study conducted by Carpenter and Dobkin (141), consumption of 12 and more drinks increased by 6.1 per cent among people aged 21 and above. The results were statistically significant and similar to those provided by California Health Interview Surveys and National Surveys on Drug Use and Health. Further, the results indicated that from the moment of attainment of the minimum legal drinking age, the rate of alcohol consumption increased by 0.55 days. This is applicable to reducing the minimum age to 18 years. Therefore, alcohol consumption increases as soon as a person attains the minimum legal drinking age.
Carpenter and Dobkin (141) checked the results of the 2006-2007 National Health Interview Survey and note that adults aged 18-25 report 36 days of alcohol consumption during the previous year; moreover, they consumed 5.1 drinks on the days they drank. This results in a blood alcohol concentration of about 0.12 percent that is equivalent to heavy (binge) drinking. The health effect of this practice is increased accidents that form the leading factors of death and injury. Alcohol also accounts for most cases of suicide, homicide and other accidents within this age bracket (Nelson and Toomey 1).
On the contrary, Pro Con (1) argues that 18 years is the legal age in the United States where people get rights to vote, smoke, sign contracts, marry and so on. As a result, consumption of alcohol as a risk is the same as the other risk factors. Further, consumption of alcohol in regulated environments promotes illegal and unregulated consumption within the age bracket. However, a U.S District Court ruled in 1978 that the right to alcohol consumption was never a fundamental right and age forms a ground for discrimination not comparable to ethnicity or race. Below are the two major concerns related to establishment of the legal drinking age in the USA.
Crime and Alcohol Consumption in Young Adults
Alcohol consumption is linked to increased crime, nuisance, vandalism, and property damage. It is because alcohol causes disinhibition and increased aggression. According to Abed and Leila (5), alcohol affects almost all body systems and changes neurochemical mechanisms. As a result, inhibitory and excitatory neural systems are affected. According to Carpenter and Dobkin (148), increasing the minimum legal drinking age to 21 years led to a reduced rate of crime in a number of states. On the other hand, the State of California reported an 11 percent increase in arrests of people aged 21 and below due to increased alcohol consumption. According to Carpenter and Dobkin (141), lowering the age of alcohol consumption is likely to result in 63 more arrests for assaults and 8 arrests for robbery in every 100, 000 persons per year.
76% of bars often sell alcohol to obviously intoxicated persons. Moreover, areas with higher concentrations of centers which sell alcohol have higher rates of assaults and crime. However, according to Carpenter and Dobkin (151) traffic accidents are common among newly licensed consumers regardless of age. On the contrary, there is a possibility of lower traffic accidents when compared to those in Europe where 18 is the legal drinking age.
According to Pro Con (1) lack of adherence to the minimum drinking age law generally results in less regard to other laws in the country. It encourages young adults to obtain false identities in order to have access to alcohol. This is leeway for other crimes such as terrorism and illegal immigration. According to Nelson and Toomey (1), college drinking leads to increased cases of injuries, sexual assaults and deaths among students. The amendment of the law is likely to worsen the situation by exposing more people to both physical and social harm.
Health Effects of Alcohol Consumption in Young Adults
The greatest health effect of alcohol on people is death. Nelson and Toomey (1) also observe that when the minimum legal drinking age was lowered from 21 to 18 years, the number of alcohol related deaths increased. It is because it increased heavy (binge) drinking. If the age limit is lowered, the problem is further pushed to high school students and teenagers. Alcohol consumption also increases the number of accidents by about 408 emergency department visits and 77 additional hospitals stays per every 100,000 persons a year (Carpenter and Dobkin141).
In their study, Abed and Safaeian (6) identified a number of alcohol-related diseases. They include heart diseases, liver cancer, kidney cancer, lower blood pressure, pancreatitis, dizziness, problems related to pregnancies and mental disorders amongst others. According to the President and Fellows of Harvard College (2014, p.1), consumption of alcohol should be viewed in two dimensions: as a tonic and as a poison. As a tonic, alcohol is consumed in moderate levels. Moderate drinking has several health benefits; it seems to be good for the heart and circulatory system, and it can protect against type II diabetes and gallstones. It is also supported by the French paradox, which refers to the low rate of coronary of heart diseases in France due to consumption of red wine. However, heavy drinking results into serious health problems mentioned above. The problem is that there is no standard recommendation in regard to moderate drinking. Various scholars argue that people should consume up to four drinks per day. Nevertheless, a greater risk factor is the addictive nature of alcohol that leads to heavy drinking.
In conclusion, it is evident from the scientific study that alcohol consumption is related to the minimum legal drinking age. Nevertheless, the risks of illegal alcohol consumption cannot be ignored. Changes of the minimum legal drinking age from 21 to 18 years lead to an increase of alcohol-related problems, including both negative personal and social effects. Thus, there is need for a sustainable solution in regard to alcohol consumption by young people. Nevertheless, there are both positive and negative health benefits of alcohol consumption. Since the impact of alcohol consumption on health and crime is relatively inevitable, maintaining the minimum legal drinking age is vital. A strong alcohol awareness campaign is required since it is wrong to assume that reduced minimum legal drinking age will decrease the number of problems related to underage drinking.