Young, wild and behind bars: why the drinking age should not be lowered to 18

Autumn Powell

     Picture this: on a normal day, Johnny is hanging out with his friends after school. As they casually sip beers in the basement, Johnny’s mother calls and asks him to pick up his sister from daycare. Feeling stable enough, Johnny takes off down the street and picks up his sister. Just as quickly as the beer had gone down his throat, he begins to see double. He is losing his spatial awareness until all at once, his basic motor skills fail him, and he takes the guardrail on the side of the road head-on, going through the windshield. He was only 16.
     Unfortunately, underage drinking is more common than not. I’m sure some of the readers are rolling their eyes and wanting to skip this entire article. So, instead of lecturing, let me talk about the five most common myths about drinking.

1. Europeans let their kids drink at an early age and they do not have any alcohol-related problems. According to www.madd.org, European teen-agers have higher intoxication rates than the U.S. In addition, young people in Europe report binge drinking at higher rates. As an example, “In 1999, New Zealand lowered its drinking age from 20 to 18. As a result, drunk driving crashes increased, the youth started to drink earlier, and in the 12 months following the decrease in legal drinking age, there was a 50 percent increase in intoxicated 18- and 19-year-old patients in hospital emergency rooms,” according to madd.org. I’m guessing a majority of the readers haven’t been to Europe, so…please stop acting as if we know their blood alcohol levels.

2. The law only makes youth want to drink because it’s a “forbidden fruit.” Well, considering how Adam and Eve ended up ruining the whole “life without sin thing,” I wouldn’t advise eating (in this case drinking) the “forbidden fruit.” In all honesty, if a person drinks underage, or just in general, because they think it’s “rebellious” or “cool,” then what’s the point? “Social drinking” can still lead to so many complications, including drunk driving. The law never said don’t drink, it just said drink responsibly at the LEGAL age.

3. Lowering the drinking age will encourage young people to be responsible consumers rather than drink at uncontrolled, private parties. Whether you want to believe it or not, we live in a world filled with people who only have their own well-being in mind. Unfortunately, while there are several bars that do serve alcohol responsibly, many bars encourage illegal/irresponsible drinking due to an increase in revenue. For many people, the goal of drinking is to get drunk. Reported by the American Psychological Association, teen-agers’ brains do not have the “wiring” yet to take into account the possible outcomes of drinking. According to www.npr.org, “The critical parts of the brain involved in decision-making are not fully developed until years later at age 25 or so…their prefrontal cortex is not yet fully developed. That’s the part of the brain that helps you to inhibit impulses and to plan and organize your behavior to reach a goal.” With this being said, if a person’s brain isn’t developed until even a few years after the legal drinking age, why would law-makers allow teen-agers a disturbance in their body that could potentially prevent normal brain growth and decision making?

4. Drinking is just a phase all kids go through; they’ll grow out of it. This ignorant statement is incredibly false. In fact, teen-agers who start drinking at an earlier age tend to continue the drinking habits. “More than 40 percent of individuals who start drinking before the age of 13 will develop alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence at some point in their lives…95 percent of the 14 million people who are alcohol dependent began drinking before the legal age of 21,” says madd.org. I understand that in high school, it’s almost a “social norm” to drink and party with friends, but is it worth your life? By the time people try to stop drinking, they’re already addicted. A lot of teen-agers have the “it won’t happen to me” syndrome. However, it happens to more people than not who decide to drink underage.

5.  If I’m old enough to go to war, I should be old enough to drink. “Many rights have different ages of initiation. You can get a hunting license at age 12, drive at 16, vote and serve in the military at 18, serve in the U.S. House of Representatives at 25, and serve as the U.S. President at 35,” says madd.org. It’s true, different age limits are set for a specific reason. In this case, 21 is the minimum age because the brain doesn’t stop developing until early-to mid-20s. In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, a little more than half of the states lowered their drinking age to 18 to more closely align with the newly reduced military enlistment and voting age. It was an incentive to go to war. However, the consequences were nearly immediate. Due to an immense increase in crashes, “By 1988, all states had set 21 as the minimum drinking age,” says madd.org. I mean, it makes perfect sense though, right? If I can serve my country, I should be able to have a beer. Well, who said that 18 years old was a good age for people to submerge themselves in the promise of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and death? I’m not saying that one shouldn’t enlist in the military, because I have an incredible amount of respect for those who do; all I’m saying is that everything has a consequence.

    The drinking age and the morality of the act itself has been under scrutiny for years. Whether someone drinks or not at the legal age, or in general, is completely up to them. However, I hope that people will take into consideration the consequences that can fall upon them if they choose irresponsibility.  To this very day, I can remember my father coming home from work and then disappearing into the night, all for a drink that he never stopped tasting since long before he was 21. You never think it’ll happen to you, that your teen-age body is immune to all of the harm this world bears. But let me let you something—it’s not. So please, drink legally and responsibly.     You could say that drinking at a young age is a bad idea because the people, who are treated as an adult in every other way, are not responsible enough to drink alcohol, but what you are really saying is that they were never taught that alcohol is for more than getting wasted for one night. They have learned from parents, friends, and society that if you drink when you’re young it’s to get drunk and when you drink when you get older it’s because you had a stressful day.
     In an article written for CNN by Brandon Griggs he interviewed Dwight B. Heath, a professor at Brown University.
     Heath said, “He favors a cultural model, common in countries like France or Italy, where parents serve small amounts of wine to their children at family meals.”
   In his opinion, alcohol in the home and how it is treated is the greatest influence on a growing teen.
     “Parents educate their kids about alcohol and rob drinking of its taboo allure, which can make rebellious teenagers sneak off to basements and backwoods to binge drink far from adult supervision,” Heath revealed.
     He said that when alcohol is introduced early on in a child’s life, ““Alcohol has no mystique. It’s no big deal. By contrast, where it’s banned until age 21, there’s something of the ‘forbidden fruit’ syndrome.”
     If you don’t think that introducing drinking at a young age is a smart idea, then look at USA Today’s article by Karis Rogerson.
     “As a child who grew up in Italy, I was familiar with alcohol from a young age. From drinking communion wine at church to sipping champagne at New Year’s Eve and being able to buy alcohol by the summer after tenth grade, I was never in awe of it,” she comments.
     Rogerson goes on to talk about her experience when she came to America for college. When she got here, alcohol became illegal and could result in the loss of her license or even worse. And the build up to her 21st birthday was a big deal. Her college, as many colleges do, had her sign a contract saying she wouldn’t drink while enrolled, but we all know where to get alcohol at college and it’s not hard. As it got closer and closer to her birthday she noticed the odd worry that surrounded her.
     “The thought that going out for a drink could result in my death — how have we, as a culture, come to a place where that is an acceptable and normal thing to worry about?”
     I could also talk about the most common argument, that if I can vote, fight in a war, be an independent adult, sit on a jury and drive a car, then I should be able to be trusted to drink responsibly. The biggest one is driving a car. In most other countries not only is the drinking age 18, but the driving age is also 18. Here in the United States, we are trusted to drive on the road with both our lives and the driver’s lives around us in our hands. Rather than be given the responsibility at the same time, we learn how to drive and by the time we the legal drinking age we are already overly comfortable with driving.
     You could argue that students our age are not ready for the responsibility, but you are sending us to college in an environment filled with drinking. Unfortunately, we are taught that if you are under the drinking age, the only way to drink is to binge drink. Yes, people get hurt and die because of other’s stupidity when it comes to drinking, but if we change the culture and attitude about alcohol then we will be able to change how alcohol is treated. The stigma that alcohol is bad is not just something we are taught, but it is also something that our parents and their parents are taught. We have built up a culture that teaches the extremes of alcohol rather than the middle ground.

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2015-05-19 08:09:57

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