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When the National Minimum Legal Drinking Age Act (NMDA) was passed by the US congress, the country became one with the highest minimum drinking ages in the world. This Act called on all the states in the US to raise their minimum age to purchase and poses alcohol in public to twenty one years. Despite the fact that the law did not really legislate a minimum age for alcohol consumption, many states went ahead to prohibit use and consumption of alcohol at 21. As we speak today many states allow underage drinking but under specific circumstances such as supervision by parents or during religious functions. Despite these, questions still persist. Has this minimum drinking age helped? Many studies have been done to find answers and so far it appears like the law has not just been ineffective, but it has also been counter productive. Research carried out show that while underage consumption of alcohol had reduced following the passage of the law, problems related to alcohol such as alcoholism and binge drinking had increased significantly. But on the other hand an analysis done by the National Center For Statistics reported that fatal accidents involving young drivers had decreased. This has there set up a heated debate about this issue of drinking age. This article will explore this debate and try to see what solution can be arrived at.
When the drinking age was raised to 21 years in the 1980s, the main aim was to reduce road accidents. But it is clear to every one that this has not in any way stopped young people from consuming alcohol. Many people and experts now believe beyond doubt that this age limit is actually contributing to the increased extreme drinking habit in many minors. Many school heads believe that this is true; in fact many of them started movements dedicated to lowering the drinking age back to 18 years. This may appear counterintuitive to some, but it is arguably the best way to assure safety to the kids. The situation has turned out to be like the old prohibition days, where kids from the suburbs, college campuses, to inner cities have mastered the art of finding their way around 21 year old limit, this is so widespread to the extent that it has become the norm. To many the law has been an abysmal failure because it has not reduced nor eliminated drinking. What it has done is to simply drive it underground, behind closed doors, and into settings that are risky and least manageable. Kids hide in basements, locked dorm rooms, fraternity houses, away from the law, adults and parents who if present could teach them some drinking moderation. The law has done nothing but create a dangerous culture of reckless and irresponsible behavior, extreme drinking, unsupervised binge, it has made kids perfect the art of getting drunk as fast as possible by engaging in drinking games. All these are done just to avoid being caught by the law (Slade p1).
The law is just unworkable in that enforcement will is there but the problem is that it is regularly and routinely avoided, whereby the enforcement leads to two arrest or convictions for every one thousand violations made. The situation has gone so far that it can not be stopped; the only thing that can be done is to contain it. Law enforcement officers have tried many different ways of enforcement including strict crack downs, but all this served to push the problem further underground. This is among the reasons why many are calling for the lowering of the drinking age. Law enforcers should stop trying to enforce a law that is unenforceable. They should instead concentrate on the abuse, overconsumption of alcohol, and driving under the influence. These are the crucial areas that they should focus on instead of chasing around kids for drinking. Statistics from The National Highway Traffic Administration showed that fatalities on Highways involving people with less than 21 years of age, dropped by 43% in the years 1987 through to 1996. According to these statistics, the minimum drinking age laws have had major impacts over the years (Johnson, 2007).
But many researchers do not see a relationship between the raising of the minimum drinking age and the lower alcohol related fatalities. Some argue that alcohol related accidents are major influenced by police impressions and therefore are purely subjective. They argue that high rates of accidents may be caused by other factors other than the drinking behavior of young people. Factors such as changes in the economy, people having the freedom to drive at young ages, many young persons owning automobiles, are the possible causes of increased road fatalities. Evaluations done by researchers on the drinking prevention strategies for young people show that many countries have found out that issue of minimum drinking age is culturally nacceptable. It is argued that reductions in alcohol related fatalities have been recorded among young drivers in countries that have not, raised the minimum drinking age. This does not in any way mean that the minimum drinking age law is not effective, but only shows that other strategies can be more effective. This may be a result of combined drinking and driving initiatives, but the possibility of the changes not being related to them can not be ruled out. But when this issue is looked at from the point of drinking patterns, mixed results are observed. For instance, a 1993 research done by Wagner found out that there were increases in the use of alcohol by the youth following a lowering of the minimum drinking age, an observation that was also made by the United States General Accounting Office. But when looking at the behavior of students in colleges over a period of four years, it was found out that the behavior and the drinking patterns shown by students over that period was fairly constant. The findings also showed that the drinking age fails to predict binge drinking. This there raises questions on the effectiveness of the minimum drinking age in school policies concerning alcohol (Miron & Tetelbaum p1).
Other researches conducted in different periods in the 1980s revealed very few changes in the drinking patterns in colleges and the problems related to the nationwide increases in the minimum alcohol purchasing age. That many students in the United States drank illegally that those who drank legally. This is attributed to what is called the reactive theory, which says that when consumption of alcohol is forbidden, it becomes more desirable therefore increasing the drinking by those who are restricted. So far massive education initiatives dealing with the perils of drinking and driving have been supported by various groups such as the Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the beverage industry and state governments. This happened concurrently with inception of the drinking laws. It is therefore not easy to measure the effectiveness of such efforts; although there is no doubt that they have played a role in changing behavior and raising awareness on drinking and driving. The US 21 year drinking age limit has elicited concerns on its apparent inconsistency. The law treats those under 21 as adults in many other areas of life but does not allow them to drink. To many, it is unfair to allow 18-21 year olds to marry, have kids, cars, firearms, homes, to be financially and social independent, and at the same time legally restrict them from having a glass of beer in a restaurant. Countries such as the United Kingdom have bashed such a law saying that it will be gravely impractical to have an age limit that is higher than the age of the majority (Wagenaar p 1).
In many arguments, Europe has been cited as the best comparison in favor of lowering the drinking age. There is no legally prescribed age for drinking in Europe but the age that is required by one to obtain a driving license is just 18 years. The average age for getting a license is sixteen. It can be argued that this lower age for driving when combined with the low drinking age can bring about a rise in road accidents and even death. In these countries drinking before attaining the age of 21 claims more lives that illness. These countries have pretty much their share of alcohol related problems. But the statistics show that these problems are more or less as those in the US which has patched the age limit at 21. For instance, the rate in which alcohol related diseases like liver cirrhosis occur is similar to the one in the United States. Cases of drunk driving by the youth in Europe are lower, although this can be attributed to high driving age in European countries. Also there is greater use of public transportation in Europe as compared to the United States where very few people take advantage of public transport; many frown upon it and in some cases, public transportation is not just available (Wagenaar p 1).
The argument that many young people can still gain access to alcohol despite the 21 age limit being in place means that the current drinking age simply can't work. This leads to the conclusion that if this age limit is lowered to eighteen years, then even younger kids will also access alcohol. This will have negative effects instead of positive ones to the society as many people anticipate. It is true that there are many under 21s out there who don't drink just because the age limit is 21. Lowering this age limit will definitely increase the number of under 21 drinkers; it will increase problems in the youth even in those who are very young. This is further supported by the correlation that exists between alcohol abuse and underage drinking. Stattistics from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism show that young people who start drinking before reaching seventeen years of age are four times more likely to end up as alcoholics. Statistics have also showed that there was an increase in road accidents, deaths, among young people when the drinking age was lowered. The encyclopedia of alcohol and drugs shows that the result of lowering the age of drinking brought about an increase of five to twenty percent in the number fatal accidents that involved alcohol, such as single-vehicle accidents that happen late in the night. That alcohol takes up one-fifth to two-thirds of these cases. They include vandalism, drowning, assaults, suicides, and also cases of teenage pregnancies. Research shows that besides accidents, alcohol also causes many suicide cases that, between a third to two- thirds of suicides in adolescents are attributed to alcohol. Studies carried out showed that suicides happening in eighteen and twenty year olds who live in States that have a drinking age of eighteen, was eight percent higher when compared to those happening in States with a drinking age of twenty one. What this means is that there is no valid reason against the legal drinking age remaining at twenty one (Streeter p 4).
Those who neither support the lowering of the drinking age nor leaving it where it is have their own views. They say that the best thing would have been to completely eliminate underage drinking, but acknowledge that this will be a hard nut to crack. They therefore feel that the best option will be alcohol education. This does not mean temperance lectures, alcohol consumption prohibition, or encouraging drinking. It means having mandatory classes in schools that will tackle the chemistry of alcohol, the consequences of its abuse, and attending alcohol anonymous sessions. Those who pass the exam will qualify to drink. In other words, they mean that alcohol education will be just like driving education where one takes the course, is evaluated, gets a license on passing the test, but if the laws are violated, then the license is taken away. They also feel that parental input is very important. That if parents come in and teach their kids how to drink responsibly at the tender ages, there will definitely be less drinking on college campuses. Lowering the drinking age or maintaining it where it is will not solve the problem that many know will not go away or change with age. Factors that need to be looked at are price, availability, and teach the youth on how to exhaustively have fun without consuming alcohol. This makes sure there is no need of determining the age limit to the young people. This may just be the best option instead of leaving matters the way they are, too much opposition on either side of the argument will not move the issue any where. That prohibition has stood the test of time, it has not worked, and drinking still goes on college campuses, in homes, in the military, even in non-college America. Age limit therefore imposes prohibition to young adults, and there will not cease to get resistance (Streeter p 4).
The issue of the drinking age limit and enforcing it effectively has generated heated debates not just in America, but all over the world. Enforcement surveys have given mixed reports on the effectiveness of the law. Many have argued that the drinking age limit of 21 is impractical, that it has led to more problems instead of solving the dreaded effects that alcohol brings. That many young people are still drinking despite the law being in place, that the law discriminates against other societal issues of the young people. They therefore call for a lowering of the drinking age to 18 years. But there are those who think lowering the age will bring more problems that the age limit has brought about many positive impacts, it has reduced traffic fatalities among other benefits. They argue that lowering the age again will take the country many decades back, a period that no one wishes to go back to. There are also those who feel that lowering or not lowering the drinking age does not over a solution, that the issue of drinking will not go away with age and therefore the issue of age can not solve it. They advocate for educating the youth and their parents on the effects of alcohol, how to drink in moderation, a measure they believe if done earlier will help reduce irresponsible drinking in young people. Despite all the arguments and disagreements on this issue, all the involved parties emphasize one thing, that while they disagree on the means of achieving their intentions, their end goals are more or less the same: to protect the young people and the society they live in as a whole from the negative effects of alcohol (Noonoo p1).