AbstractAlcohol consumption is both a social and medical phenomenon.
While its consumption has been in existence ever since man advanced on a journey of civilization, agents of social authority have always attempted to restrict its consumption to a select potion of the populace. It is because of these restrictions that alcohol has acquired its symbolic status as a forbidden fruit, a sign of rebellion against the established forms of authority or more glamorously a symbol of initiation into adulthood . Currently the controversy surrounding alcohol consumption is whether the 21 year Minimum Legal Drinking Age (MLDA) is a better option than 18 years.
This paper offers a concise and comprehensive discussion on the two opposing age limits.Lowering the Drinking Age to 18 Until the later years of the 19th century, the society heavily relied on non legal; social mechanism to control or prevent underage and youthful drinking. In the wake or industrialization, urbanization, and immigration, the consumption of alcohol came under tight control especially with regard to selling alcoholic products according to legal age.
Between 1970 and 1973 almost all the states in America lowered the drinking age to years below the 21 years. In some jurisdictions the drinking age was set to 18 years while some set the 19 year limit. Some states such as New York and Louisiana have had the 18 year drinking age since 1934 and 1948 respectively. Legislations reducing the drinking age were perceived as enlightened and futuristic as it was believed that with time the consumption of alcohol shed its symbolic significance as being a grown up thing and the young would begin to cultivate a moderate consumption of alcohol. Furthermore, alcohol consumption among teenagers has never been a matter of secrecy since they consume alcohol even though the law restricts that they can not be able to purchase alcoholic beverages in licensed joints. On the other hand, purchase and possession restrictions only encourage rapid and excessive consumption of alcohols by teenagers hence contributing to the ills attributed to alcohol consumptions (Cohen 1983). For years, the legal purchase age of alcohol has been 21 years. During all these years the persons under the legal consumption limit have been consuming alcohol albeit irresponsibly.
This irresponsibility is not a function of age but rather a phenomenon that explains the symbolic status alcoholic consumption has been accorded for centuries. For instance, alcohol is viewed as a forbidden fruit, a sign of rebellion against the established forms of authority or more glamorously a symbol of initiation into adulthood (Solo hub 2006). Unless these socially propagated notions are obliterated, alcohol consumption by the underage will continue to be a dominant pathology in the social fabric of our nation. The fact that these are the beliefs behind irresponsible consumption of alcohol shows that increasing the legal age limit has nothing with the reduction of alcohol related problems. Historically, in the 1920s, America once tried to introduce a national prohibition of alcohol consumption but the move created more anarchy than the pre-law era (Solohub 2006). The law was completely unenforceable and widespread disrespect for the legal structure became a prevalent phenomenon.
It is also this time that organized criminal groups and immoderate alcohol consumption proliferated across America. The behaviors being exhibited by the youth today are but ramifications of that attempted prohibition of alcohol consumption. Even though the United States is a different and unique country in its own respect an analysis across the world show that it is almost the only country in the world with a minimum drinking age of 21 years. A study done using a very large research sample of young people between the States of New York and Massachusetts after Massachusetts raised its minimum legal drinking age showed that there was no considerable difference in the degree of daily consumption of alcohol.
The research demonstrated that reduction or increase in the legal limit has absolutely no profound effect on the level of consumption of alcohol. Second, another study comparing the number of college students with alcohol related problems between states with a higher legal limit for alcohol consumption and states with lower legal limit showed considerably no difference. In fact, the legal limit had little influence on the development of alcohol related problems.
Third, when states are compared on the level of underage consumption rates, drinking problems and drinking attitudes, States that had maintained the lower legal age for drinking showed no significant deterioration into underage drinking (Hanson et al 2005).College and University students across the national spectrum fiercely disagree with those opposing the lowering of the minimum legal drinking limit because they believe that should the drinking age be lowered then there would be no need to become overly intoxicated because of the guarantee of purchase. The move would without doubt cut down alcohol related deaths in colleges and universities.
However, there are specific arguments that deter any legal progression towards the lowering of the drinking age. First, a higher MLDA (Minimum Legal Drinking Age) is the most effective way in preventing any alcohol related injuries and death among the youth succumbing to irresponsible alcohol consumption. This argument is buttressed in the understanding that should the minimum legal drinking age be reduced then casualties of alcohol related injuries and deaths are bound to increase. Second, research evidence attests to the fact that so long as the minimum legal drinking age is maintained at 21 years, persons aged below the limit will be more likely to consume only minimal amounts of alcohol. This is beneficial for their development into early adulthood as they will be inclined to consume considerably low amounts of alcohol even if they pass the minimum legal drinking age into their early and late twenties(Hanson et al 2005). Third, Alcohol consumption among the youth has always been associated with higher numbers of road fatalities. Maintenance of the 21 year MLDA will have the effect of reducing traffic fatalities involving 18-230 year olds by 13%. Since the restitution of the 21 year MLDA in 1975, approximately 18,220 lives have been saved (Hanson et al 2005).
It will therefore become rather selfish and ill informed to advocate for the lowering of MLDA. Several studies have been carried out to specifically and objectively document the relationship between the lowering of the minimum legal drinking age and the prevalence of the 18-20 year olds to alcohol related traffic fatalities and injuries. Shortly, after the law was changed in Michigan, for instance from 21 years to 18 years, police statistics showed an abnormal increase of 119% in alcohol related traffic collisions in comparison toe pre-law periods. During the same transition older drivers exhibited only a 14% increase (Cohen 1983). A cross sectional analysis of reports produced in several states attest to the positive correlation between alcohol related traffic accidents, fatalities and injuries and the lowering of the legal age for the consumption of alcohol. Even though it can be argued that accidents have been occurring anyway regardless of the purchase and possession legal age or that the abruptness of legal transition may be partly to blame as a causal factor, an element of irresponsibility in the consumption of alcohol is prevalent among the 18-20 year olds cannot be undone.
It is always extremely difficult to eradicate an established social behavior such as drinking of alcohol at once. The disappointing level of social misbehavior and traffic accidents among the 18-21 year olds not only confirm that lowering the drinking age would be disastrous to these young lives but it also reaffirms that the 21 minimum legal drinking age is a better legislation. Moreover, across the spectrum other proposals have been implemented to deter excessive alcohol consumption. Despite the insistence that the 21 MLDA is better than the 18 or 19 MLDA, the truth is that a higher legal limit has not deterred the youth from consuming alcohol. The ineffectiveness of age limits in solving alcohol related problems can be confirmed by the presence of countries which have fewer cases of alcohol related problems and yet they have lower legal alcohol consumption limits.
For example, Finland, Ireland, and Sweden have set the minimum drinking age of 21 years. Others such as Germany, United Kingdom, Portugal, Italy, France, and Netherlands have an ever lower limit of 16 years.This ineffectiveness calls upon the legislative framework to strive towards maligning their legal limits to the rest of the world. It is lonely through the lowering of the legal limit to 18 years that we will be able to completely eliminate the unnecessary, costly and burdensome underage drinking violations.
These infractions with the legal structures usually include; legal costs, imprisonment, fines, legal expenses, and court time. When it is understood that exposing the youth to the criminal justice system is not beneficial to their development as law abiding citizens, we may cease from instituting laws that are detrimental to the well being of the society in the long run. When these legal limits that encourage illegal consumption of alcohol are removed, the society will undoubtedly take their role in educating the young on the benefits of responsible drinking without seeming to hide alcohol from the eager hands of the younger members of the society. Through the development of a culture of moderation, alcohol consumption may lose its symbolic status and become anything as normal as consuming coffee. In such a system, the youth may not degenerate into excessive consumption of alcohol as it will be viewed as a form of immature behavior or lack of self respect.Considering that the voting age is 18 years, why then do some people insist that 18 year olds are not responsible citizens? Between voting and alcohol consumption where does great social responsibility lie? Additionally, 18 year olds are being drafted into military and sent to missions to protect the interests of the country and in other instances 18 year olds are becoming juries.
It becomes rather naïve to assume that these individuals are not mature yet we entrust them with national responsibilities that even require more maturity.ReferencesCohen, Sidney. 1983.
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