Legal Drinking Age Called Into Question Once More

A campaign to reduce the legal drinking age from 21 to 18 is gaining momentum in the US. The National Youth Rights Association is attracting support from States including Florida, Missouri and Wisconsin, where proponents of the motion are calling for a radical overhaul of existing laws, which they describe as outdated and counterproductive.

Under-Age Drinking Statistics

In 2005, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that alcohol consumption was common among teenagers and under-age adults in the US. While the revelation was not in itself surprising, the extent to which young people were illegally drinking shocked many in government.

According to the survey, 85 per cent of respondents aged 20 admitted to drinking alcohol, while 40 per cent confessed to binge drinking within the last month. Binge drinking was defined in the survey as any session in which at least five alcoholic beverages are consumed.

Binge Drinking

In the UK, the binge-drinking culture is also under the microscope. Critics argue that open-all-hours bars have contributed to the problem, while others insist that binge drinking is more deeply ingrained in youth culture.

Solicitors in Warrington are certainly no strangers to the effects of binge drinking. According to Drink aware, alcohol is a factor in 50 per cent of crimes committed on the street, 33 per cent of burglaries and 30 per cent of sexual offences. Shockingly, 29 per cent of deaths caused by alcohol occur as a result of alcohol-related accidents (rather than alcohol-related illness, such as heart or liver disease). Binge drinking is most common among people age 16 to 34.

US Debate

The fact that the legal age limit on drinking in the UK is 18 and not 21 does not inspire confidence across the Atlantic. Britain is thought to have a serious problem with binge drinking among teenagers and young adults, so more relaxed laws on drinking are not necessarily beneficial; however, statistics from other countries suggest that lowering the drinking age may produce a positive effect in a different cultural environment.

Proponents of change in the US argue that figures published by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health are representative of a legal framework that drives drinking underground. Supporters of a petition to lower the drinking age limit to 18 insist that the current law merely encourages young people to drink more irresponsibly. If the age limit were 18, they argue, young Americans would be more inclined to drink in the company of parents and older adults, thereby reducing the risk of their binge drinking.

Conservative groups opposing the motion remain convinced that lowering the age limit on drinking would make the current problem worse. The logic for this is simple: if 85 per cent of people aged 20 are willing to drink illegally, how many teenagers would take up the habit if the law were on their side? Prohibiting drink among young adults is regarded as socially responsible by many conservatives; however, academics have good reason to believe that prohibition simply glamorises drinking among teenagers.

A recent survey suggests that 77 per cent of people in the US oppose reducing the age limit on drinking from 21 to 18, but Barrett Seaman, who wrote a book on the subject, argues that maintaining alcohol as a ‘forbidden fruit’ only serves to make illegal drinking more appealing to rebellious youngsters.