August 20 2005

Legal Drinking Age

Something I have pondered for ages, and I know many other people have also, is why our legal drinking age is 21. The Amaerican Medical Association has a history of the Minimum Legal Drinking Age (MLDA) on this page. According to this story, the MLDA was made 21 at the end of prohibition in 1933. Between 1970 and 1975, 29 states lowered their MLDA’s to the range of 18,19 and 20. After pressure from concerned groups, the goverment threatened all states with lower highway funds unless they went back to the age of 21. All the states complied, and during the 1980’s the national drinking age was again raised to 21.

This is all well and good, but let’s take a look at the global picture for a moment. The United States holds the distinction of being the country with the highest MLDA. This page lists some of the various drinking ages around the world. As you can see, the vast majority of the countries rest in the age 18, when you are considered a legal adult in most parts of the world. Even amongst those, there are exceptions when you are having a meal or are with an adult.

It seems silly that drinking is the last of the hurdles into supposed adult hood in this country. Let’s look at some of things you can do at other ages:

15 – Driving with a permit in some states
16 – Driving with a restricted license
18 – Driving with a full license
18 – Enter legally binding contracts
18 – Vote
18 – Join the military
18 – Take out a loan
18 – Get a credit card
18 – Smoke
18 – Get married without parental consent
18 – Buy a rifle or shotgun
21 – Buy a handgun and handgun ammo

So essentially, you can put yourself into debt for life with credit cards, smoke and give yourself cancer, join the military and go fight a war where you can kill or be killed, buy a rifle, drive a 2 ton coffin on wheels or enter into a contract that could change your life…..but don’t you dare think about having a beer while doing any of these things. Getting married, but you are under 21? Sorry, no champagne for you.

Now, my first guess as to why we are setting the bar so late in life would have to do with the amount of cars we have. People are much more prone to drink and drive here than in other countries. The AMA point on this page to a study that says just that:

Regarding Europeans and alcohol use among youth, research confirms that Europeans have rates of alcohol-related diseases (such as cirrhosis of the liver) similar to or higher than those in the U.S. population (Single, 1984). However, drinking and driving among youth may not be as great a problem in Europe as in the U.S. Compared to their American counterparts, European youth must be older to obtain their drivers’ licenses, are less likely to have a car, and are more inclined to use public transportation (Wagenaar, 1993).

Ok, I can see this point (for the record, I do not condone/endorse/or recommend drunk driving…always have a designated driver!), but how about we look into the idea of educating people about alcohol? My feelings are that a lot of people have alcohol problems when they first start drinking because we have no training. The only people who could teach me about drinking were my friends because my folks weren’t drinkers, and lord knows friends are the worst people to turn to for this type of info. No one educated me about what types of booze shouldn’t be combined, that I should always eat before drinking and on and on. My friends were very much of the “it’s booze, drink it!” variety.

In the UK, you are allowed to order liquor as early as age 16 if you are in a resturant with your parents, and you can sit in a bar as early as 14. (thanks for the clarification Rachel!) What a concept! Some of the mystery is removed, you can be taught responsible drinking by example and you can avoid some of the common mistakes young drinkers make.

And that leads me to one of my final reason why, at the very least, some sort of drinking instruction should be given, let’s remove the mystery. I drank far more when I was under 21 than I did after I became legal. It was a mystery, a taboo, a way to defy authority. Once I was legal, I just wasn’t that interested anymore.

There is no perfect solution, but I don’t think 21 is the answer either. For a bigger thrill, there seems to be some evidence that M.A.D.D. (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) would like to see the age raised to 25. Yeah…that makes sense, make even more underage drinkers, and add to the mystery.

And your thoughts are very welcome on this subject. These are strictly my random thoughts on the matter.

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