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Lower the Drinking Age to 18

The legal drinking age should be reduced from 21 to 18 years of age. This change will effectively tear down the mystique of drinking among young people, and with it, decrease the number of fatalities and damage affiliated with excessive drinking. In conjunction with a reduction in the drinking age, penalties for DWI and sexual assault should be elevated to mirror the severity and societal impact of these crimes.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2009 release indicates that during the period from 2001-2005, the U.S. recorded 79,000 deaths resulting from excessive alcohol use, making it the third leading preventable cause of death in America. Additionally, 30% of all sexual assaults occur when the perpetrator is under the influence of alcohol making it easier for him to ignore sexual boundaries, while a victim’s intoxication makes it more difficult for her to guard against an attack. Ninety percent of all campus rapes occur under the influence of alcohol. 

Binge drinking is commonly defined as four or more alcoholic drinks by women and five or more for men, and further elucidated by prevalence (the percentage of people who binged during the last month), frequency (how many times drinkers binged the in last month), and intensity (the highest number of drinks consumed by those who binged in the last month). Binge drinking represents about half of the alcohol consumed by adults in the U.S.

In the study, overall binge drinking among adults was 15.2%; for men (20.8%), it was two times higher than for women (10%). The survey showed that 25.6% of young adults 18-24 binged during the last month; they did it 4.1 times, and they ingested 9.1 drinks at each sitting. All of these totals declined as the age of the respondents to the survey increased.

Binge drinking is a risk factor in many health and social situations, including unintentional injuries (motor-vehicle crashes), violence, suicide, hypertension, STDs, unintended pregnancy, fetal alcohol syndrome, and sudden infant death syndrome. U.S. adults – particularly whites, males aged 18-34 years, and those with household incomes over $50,000 – are the most prone to binge drinking.

Binge drinking is most prevalent on college campuses. In fact, many colleges are beginning to give in to the inevitability of underage drinking and encourage drinking on campus to avoid issues and increased danger in surrounding areas. Additionally, most colleges have hot lines that ensure access to health services for those who black out and/or become sick after drinking excessively. It is noteworthy that colleges are assuming a great deal of liability risk by allowing this activity.

The consumption of alcohol is an integral part of college campus life. It takes place “pre-game,” perhaps in someone’s room, and then moves to larger venues such as fraternity parties and tailgate parties. This enables students to reach higher levels of inebriation more quickly. It is disquieting that alcohol has become so ingrained in our society, and that these unhealthy habits will remain with many young people as they move to adulthood. The derivative effects are all bad. As mentioned above, binge drinking results in more car accidents and a plethora of other unfortunate events such as sexual assault and any number of health issues including liver disease.

Many young people acquire a taste for alcohol while still in high school. In some cases, this is made possible by parents who “unofficially” condone drinking by their children and friends in their homes, and by retailers who do not comply with legal limits pertaining to the sale of alcohol. Yet, there are many parents who are very strict about drinking, choosing to ignore alcohol’s role in our society. Unfortunately, some of their children relish the freedom college affords them, and they become the worst binge-drinking offenders.

In 1984, the 21 drinking age limit became law as part of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act. This law has not been a success by any standard. In fact, some believe it has increased the mystique of drinking. Whether drinking occurs because young people are defying authority or to be a part of the crowd is irrelevant; the laws are unenforceable for all practical purposes. Moreover, the illogic of adulthood beginning when a person turns 18 (voting, military service, legal responsibility for one’s actions, etc.), while the drinking age is 21, is painfully obvious.

It is time for the federal government to change the law to permit drinking when a person is an adult, at 18 years of age.

Photo Credit: Truthiness

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