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Issues Involving the Drinking Age

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Issues Involving the Drinking Age

What is the correct age to set for the buying and consumption of alcohol? For many years this issue has brought forth controversies all over our nation. Many people argue that young, irresponsible adults cannot handle consuming alcohol therefore it should be raised. Other people argue that no matter how many times the drinking age is raised underage people will still find ways to acquire alcohol. Regardless of what the arguments are it is clear to say that it is a big issue among the States.

A law passed on July 17, 1984 set the national drinking age to 21. This law is called The National Minimum Drinking Age Act and it has had one of the largest impacts of any other law passed in American history. Although this law set the bar for the drinking age, years before this law passed alcohol stirred up the nation inside out. The temperance movement was set forth to enforce drinking ages in order to accomplish their ultimate goal to abolish the consumption of alcohol completely. The result was that in 1919 the 18th amendment was ratified to abolish the use of alcohol entirely. Many people disagreed with this and the public opinion won their rights back. In 1933 the 18th amendment was repealed by the 21st amendment by an agreement with the temperance movement.

As a result of the 18th amendment being repealed most states set the age at 21 while others had it set at 18. This lasted for quite some time until the Baby Boom and the Vietnam War occurred. Issues arose that if soldiers had to travel overseas and risk their lives then they should be able to consume alcohol as they please. Although many years of political battles and protests occurred the need for lowering the drinking age died down for some time.

As the battle for lowering the age diminished the modern prohibitionalists movement began to grow led by Candy Lightner, the president and founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). This movement brought forward studies showing that teenage alcohol consumption was growing to be uncontrollable. These arguments planted the seeds for the National Minimum Drinking Age Act to be made and passed by legislation. This bill said that all states need to lower their drinking age to 21 within 2 years or they shall lose a portion of their Federal-aid highway funds.

Overtime people stir up arguments that the drinking age is too high and therefore should be lowered. One of the more influential people against a high set drinking is Dr. Ruth Engs, Professor of Applied Health Sciences at Indiana University in Bloomington. An article about Dr. Engs' opinion towards the drinking age is below.

"The legal drinking age should be lowered to about 18 or 19 and young adults allowed to drink in controlled environments such as restaurants, taverns, pubs and official school and university functions. In these situations responsible drinking could be taught through role modeling and educational programs. Mature and sensible drinking behavior would be expected. This opinion is based upon research that I have been involved in for over twenty years concerning college age youth and the history of drinking in the United States and other cultures.

Although the legal purchase age is 21 years of age, a majority of college students under this age consume alcohol but in an irresponsible manner. This is because drinking by these youth is seen as an enticing "forbidden fruit," a "badge of rebellion against authority" and a symbol of "adulthood." As a nation we have tried prohibition legislation twice in the past for controlling irresponsible drinking problems. This was during National Prohibition in the 1920s and state prohibition during the 1850s. These laws were finally repealed because they were unenforceable and because the backlash towards them caused other social problems. Today we are repeating history and making the same mistakes that occurred in the past. Prohibition did not work then and prohibition for young people under the age of 21 is not working now.

The flaunting of the current laws is readily seen among university students. Those under the age of 21 are more likely to be heavy -- sometimes called "binge" -- drinkers (consuming over 5 drinks at least once a week). For example, 22% of all students under 21 compared to 18% over 21 years of age are heavy drinkers. Among drinkers only, 32% of under age compared to 24% of legal age are heavy drinkers.

Research from the early 1980s until the present has shown a continuous decrease in drinking and driving related variables, which has paralleled the nation's, and also university students, decrease in per capita consumption. However, these declines started in 1980 before the national 1987 law that mandated states to have 21-year-old alcohol purchase laws.

The decrease in drinking and driving problems are the result of many factors and not just the rise in purchase age or the decreased per capita consumption. These include: education concerning drunk driving, designated driver programs, increased seat belt and air bag usage, safer automobiles, lower speed limits, free taxi services from drinking establishments, etc.

While there has been a decrease in per capita consumption and motor vehicle crashes, unfortunately, during this same time period there has been an INCREASE in other problems related to heavy and irresponsible drinking among college age youth. Most of these reported behaviors showed little change until AFTER the 21-year-old law in 1987. For example from 1982 until 1987 about 46% of students reported "vomiting after drinking." This jumped to over 50% after the law change. Significant increase were also found for other variables: "cutting class after drinking" jumped from 9% to almost 12%; "missing class because of hangover" went from 26% to 28%; "getting lower grade because of drinking" rose from 5% to 7%; and "been in a fight after drinking" increased from 12% to 17%. All of these behaviors are indices of irresponsible drinking. This increase in abusive drinking behavior is due to "underground drinking" outside of adult supervision in student rooms and apartments where same age individuals congregate and because of lack of knowledge of responsible drinking behaviors.

Based upon the fact that our current prohibition laws are not working, the need for alternative approaches from the experience of other, and more ancient cultures, which do not have these problems need to be tried. Groups such as Italians, Greeks, Chinese and Jews, who have few drinking related problems, tend to share some common characteristics. Alcohol is neither seen as a poison or a magic potion, there is little or no social pressure to drink,



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