America has a drinking problem. The unrealistically high drinking age has lead to disastrous consequences. The drinking age has not stopped teen drinking; it has merely driven it underground. Teen drinking is now a private, risky practice.
A drinking age of 21 has successfully set us apart from every other developed Western Nation. This law currently groups us with Sri Lanka, Qatar, Pakistan, and a few other countries most people have never heard of. Learning to drink responsibly is a common and essential part of growing up in most European nations. In France and Italy, a glass of wine with dinner will begin in the early teens. In Germany, kegs of beer are ever present at family gatherings. As you might imagine, alcohol related teen deaths and injuries are drastically lower in these nations. Universally, the average drinking age is 16.9 years old. Yet the country with the wildest, most dangerous drinking culture is holding firm with a minimum drinking age of 21.
Prior to the 80s American teens could drink, chat, and socialize casually in a controlled a public environment. Then in 1984, the organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) put intense pressure on Congress for change. Of course they had good intentions, drunk driving was a dangerous problem. And yes, rates of drunk driving have seen a decrease since the mid 80s. However, this decrease cannot and should not be directly linked with the raising of the drinking age. Teens today are the first generation to be warned so frequently about drunk driving. Every high school health course includes horror stories and startling statistics. Highways are decorated with signs that warn, “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over.” On top of increased awareness, we now see more frequent seat-belt use and harsher DWI penalties. At the time of the increase in drinking age, drunk driving was hardly even criticized or publicized nationally.
After the age was altered, teens did not stop drinking. They emptied the bars, and the rambunctious frat house “kegger” became more popular than ever. Cut off from the adult world, the popularity of binge drinking skyrocketed. Various drinking games were created, most with the main goal of getting very drunk as fast as possible. On game day students were chugging their drinks at the tailgate, now too young to buy a beer inside. Drinking was suddenly unsupervised and extremely dangerous. The American drinking culture of the modern era was born.
This tweet from Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” playfully shines a light on a scary side effect of teen binge drinking.
The following news report shows the alarming consequences and popularity of binge drinking on college campuses.
According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 1,400 college students die from alcohol related causes each year, 500,00 are injured, and 70,000 cases of rape and sexual assault are reported. One researcher calls binge drinking “a plague on college campuses.”
Clearly, the way American teens perceive and consume alcohol is seriously flawed. Binge drinking is a growing danger. As a nation we need to take steps towards a more temperate and controlled drinking culture. The first step is to lower the drinking age. It’s time to follow the precedent set by the developed countries of Europe. WE need to teach our kids to drink in moderation. Teen drinking in America needs to be viewed as a habit rather than a sport. If we fail to take action, the alcohol related deaths, injuries, and sexual assaults will only increase annually.