In the United States, a citizen is considered an “adult” at the age of 18, and with that new title comes many responsibilities, such as the right to vote and to join the army. However, the legal drinking age in America is twenty-one. This issue has been a major controversy for some time now that faces both national and state governments. Should the drinking age be lowered to the age when legally a person becomes an adult and assumes all other adult responsibilities, or should it remain at a higher age to allow people to grow more mature and, hopefully, make more responsible decisions?
In the mid 1600’s, colonial laws attempted to control alcohol consumption, but drinking per se was not remonstrated. Between 1913 and 1919 there was a lot of controversy between the “wet” states, which were states that allowed liquor, and the “dry” states, which were against and had made liquor illegal. On October 28, 1919, Congress enacted the National Prohibition Act, also known as the Volstead Act. The 18th Amendment was to become effective on January 17, 1920, and in those three months before the amendment became effective, alcohol was stolen in mass quantities from government warehouses.
Throughout the thirteen years that Prohibition was enforced, the demand for alcohol only grew. The 18th Amendment was repealed on December 5, 1933 following the 21st Amendment, which was effective immediately. The National Minimum Drinking Age Act followed the 21st Amendment on July 17, 1984 stating that all states prohibit anyone under the age of 21 consuming, purchasing, or being in possession of alcohol. If the states would not comply with the law, they would not get funding under the Federal Aid Highway Act. This bill was supported by many people, one being arguably the most influential, was Candy Lightner.
She founded the MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) after losing her daughter in 1980 to a car accident involving a drunk driver. On average, according to MADD statistics, a person is killed by a drunk driver every forty minutes. In 2007, about 13,000 people were killed in alcohol impaired driving crashes. A “binge drinker” is defined as a person who has more than 5 drinks in one sitting, which is becoming a large issue at college campuses worldwide. Presidents from over 100 universities have voted to lower the drinking age in order to cut the amount of underage drinking on campuses. Frequent users” will drink anywhere from three times a week to everyday.
A “moderate user” is someone who drinks anywhere from once a week to once a month. The decision of whether or not to keep the drinking age at 21 or lower it to 18 is continually discussed between groups such as MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, who fight to keep the drinking age at 21 and LAFAA, Legalize Alcohol For All Adults, who fight to lower the drinking age. Karl Marx’s Conflict Theory is one way to explain the disagreements between those who want to lower the drinking age, and those who don’t.
His theory states that social organization and change is based upon conflicts within the society. People between the ages of 18 and 21, called stakeholders, feel that they aren’t getting to exercise all of their rights to being an adult by government definition. They given all of the responsibilities and consequences of adults such as the right to vote, the ability to adopt, the right to join the military, the right to be charged with the highest punishment if accused of a crime, the right to get married, the right to buy and create pornography, etc.
LAFAA would argue that with given all of these rights, government defined adults would also have to right to choose whether or not to consume alcohol. The families that allow their children to drink give a conflicting message to those who are a part of the underage drinking. Children then grow up thinking that underage drinking isn’t a big deal and is also a fun and “cool” thing to do. A large part of the “cool” factor, some would say, has to do with it being illegal to their age group. The thrill is what makes the drinking more exciting.
The law also states that government usually follows majority opinion, and if this is fact, then the drinking age would be lowered seeing that two-thirds of Americans consume alcohol. Those arguing for keeping the drinking age at or above 21, such as MADD, argue that lowering the drinking age would enable younger adults to be able to purchase and drink alcohol legally, which would inevitably result in higher mortality rates. Although 18 year olds are considered adults, some think that they are still not mature enough to make to correct choices about alcohol.
Those who think that keeping the drinking age at a higher minimum are trying to keep the demand for alcohol down and are also trying to keep the roads safer from drunk drivers. People between the ages of 18 and 20 will have just started college for the most part and don’t need alcohol interfering with their studies and their ability to succeed in life. Condoning the drinking of newly formed adults would only cause chaos and cause more fatalities. To MADD the cost of drinking outweighs the benefits since the highest numbers of fatalities in the United States are due to alcohol related deaths.
Evidence tends to support the notion that keeping the drinking age at 21 is the safest and most responsible thing to do. Although it is taking some of Americans rights away, it is also ensuring the safety of thousands of citizens. Depending on whether you are liberal or conservative, opinions on how many rights government should take away will differ tremendously. The safety of American people should always be the most important aspect of keeping the United States a safe and enjoyable place to live. No matter whether the age is kept at 21 or lowered to 18, the controversy between the groups will never end.
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