General Question

RareDenver's avatar

Do you think the drinking age of 21 in the USA is too high?

Asked by RareDenver (13038 points ) September 15th, 2010

It just seems to me that if you are legally an adult at 18 (19 in some states maybe?) and you can vote, fight and die for your country etc then you should be able to walk into a bar and order a beer. What do you think has led to such a high legal drinking age? Has society in the USA produced teenagers that are more immature than their European counterparts perhaps?

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72 Answers

BoBo1946's avatar

Should be 18! If a person can fight for his country at 18, this person should be able to have a beer with his friends.

JLeslie's avatar

Yes, I think the drinking age is too high. I also think our drunk driving laws should be stricter.

zophu's avatar

The human brain doesn’t even fully develop until the mid-twenties, but it’s probably not the law’s place to order anyone over 18 around concerning what they consume.

JLeslie's avatar

Oh, I did not answer the second part of your question. I think since drinking is a taboo done in secret by teens, it has made it more likely that teens drink recklessly. Also, we seem to think in our society that getting drunk is funny and cool, Instead of an emphasis on civilized social drinking. Another possible reason, not many countries have so many suburbs, so we have many many teens driving, while in cities there is easy and convenient public transit for drunk people. We have that whole puritanical thing going on in the US, where people think the government should make laws controlling individuals behavior, I think in other countries they do this less. Well, depending on the country.

BoBo1946's avatar

@RareDenver I cannot answer the second part. I’ve never been around any European teenagers!

Deja_vu's avatar

I think if you can die for your country you should be able to have beer. Who waited ‘till they were 21 to drink anyways?

JLeslie's avatar

@Deja_vu on base might be 18, I’m not sure, we would have to ask someone in the military.

Deja_vu's avatar

@JLeslie It’s not. The drinking age is 21 for everybody. I have Navy buddies.

mrentropy's avatar

Either they should lower the drinking age to 18, or raise the age of being an adult to 21. It’s all about consistency.

I think making anything taboo until a certain age is bound to create problems of one kind or another.

JLeslie's avatar

@Deja_vu interesting. Still, if they are stationed abroad, they typically get to drink in bars off base, because most countries have lower ages, except for maybe the middle east, I have no idea what it is like there regarding alcohol laws. In international waters and while flying, I think it is 18, even on American ships and airlines. Anyway, I agree, if you can go to war, you should be able to legally drink.

rooeytoo's avatar

Legal drinking age in Australia is 18. Virtually every car accident that involves a kid also involves alcohol. Binge drinking is a huge problem. So whether it is 18 or 21 doesn’t seem to have any effect on the maturity of handling the stuff.

Ben_Dover's avatar

The drinking age is too low. It should be around 35 or 40.

What do you think has led to such a high legal drinking age?

The fact that drunks are in charge of the law; drunks who were once teenage alcoholics themselves. And they know darn good and well how poorly teens do under the influence of alcohol. And since most teens pay no attention to the age limit in re drinking, it hardly matters what age to which they limit drinking.

Frenchfry's avatar

I think it should be 18. You can screw up at any age when alcohol is concerned. I don’t think it would make a difference. Maybe people will stop drinking earlier then.

BarnacleBill's avatar

I think it should be age 18.

From our experience with exchange students, it seems that the whole American education system produces a more immature young adult. High school in the US is still treated as “fun years” by adults, whereas in other countries, high school pretty much determines if you go to college or university. Their education systems pretty much place you at age 19–20 with either training for specific fields or in university.

NaturallyMe's avatar

No, i don’t think it’s too high. Alcohol is no necessity in life and so there’s no need that they should have to be able to have any before that age.

RareDenver's avatar

@NaturallyMe by that reckoning should it just be illegal for all adults then?

Mat74UK's avatar

I think it is a bit too low, as stated above if you can vote and die why not drink?

Also another question: On US Bases on foreign soil what drinking age applies? The host states or the US, and can under 21 squaddies go off base and drink?

marinelife's avatar

I don’t think allowing 18 year olds to drink is a good thing.

That said, I cannot argue with the sentiment that if you are old enough to die for your country, you should be able to drink.

Mama_Cakes2's avatar

I do.

If they live close to the Canadian border, though, they can come to Canada (The land of beer and beavers!) 19 and you’re in! Welcome to Canada!

CMaz's avatar

No.

It is just right. Allowing for a right of passage and avoiding passing away.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I’d make the legal age a sliding scale – a year older than my kids.
My oldest is 30.

john65pennington's avatar

Eighteen is the legal age to do many things in America, except drink alcohol. here is why: the adult brain is still immature in many teenagers. drinking alcohol before age 21, increases the chances of addiction, auto and other accidents.

Besides, how many teenagers, under 21, do you know that already drink beer and other alcoholic beverages? lowering the age limit would only add more of these numbers to deaths caused by alcohol.

Seek's avatar

I’m taking the uber-liberal route – if you’re old enough to put money on the counter, give ‘em a beer. Let the parents sort out the details. We made the age for legal consent to sex 16, and that hasn’t decreased the number of pregnant 14 year olds one bit. It has however, turned a lot of 16 year old boyfriends into registered sex offenders.

Creating unenforceable laws to control the actions of the population doesn’t work. Remember Prohibition?

NaturallyMe's avatar

@RareDenver I wouldn’t mind if it were illegal for everybody. :) It causes enough problems and disasters in this world.

But that’s not really what i implied in my first answer. I just don’t think that the age limit is too high. Everybody knows that younger people don’t always have good judgment in regards to certain things. So keeping bad habits away from someone during their younger and developmental years is not a bad thing.

Ben_Dover's avatar

“if you are legally an adult at 18 (19 in some states maybe?) and you can vote, fight and die for your country etc then you should be able to walk into a bar and order a beer.

This is just terrible logic. Perhaps what needs doing is to_raise the age of fighting and dying_.

iamthemob's avatar

I personally don’t believe in any legal drinking age, but I like the sliding scale concept on a decriminalized level (civil fines and whatnot).

When I was a teenager, it was legal for 16 year olds in the U.K. could buy beer at a pub as long as it also served food. At 18 the bar was fully open. I think that prior to that drinking in the home should be fully permitted. This type of situation allows parents the ability to introduce their kids to alcohol in a responsible manner.

Yes, a bunch of them will fail. But this could be monitored. The more a person under the age of 16 is discovered to be drunk, the more their ability to get a drivers’ license could be delayed. (there would have to be other safeties).

The problem as I see is it is that if it’s illegal, then suddenly legal, that’s where the binge drinking comes into play. Teens binge drink because they don’t know when they’ll get it again, know that drinking is fun, and don’t really have an incentive to stop drinking if once they have any, they’ll be in as much trouble as if they had a bunch.

I don’t think it has anything to do with the maturity level of teens – travelling abroad, you’ll find often that Americans are respected as tourists, where a lot of places fear Brits and Aussies are the ones they are always talking about getting ripped and tearing up the place. I think that it just has to do with the inherited puritanical nature of the U.S.

aprilsimnel's avatar

@Ben_Dover – Ah, but anyone with a mature brain capacity might actually question things in the armed forces. And we can’t have that, now can we? Gotta get ‘em and reinforce your methods on ‘em while they’re young and eager to be a part of something larger than themselves!

We have no rites of passage in our society for teens like some other cultures have. Even the relative seriousness of bar and bat mitzvahs and other cultural rites have been reduced in Western societies to throwing big parties at the given age, with very little instruction on what it means to actually mature into another phase of life. I think that’s a major part of the problem.

Also, with regard to drinking, I know that in France, kids are actually taught how to drink like a civilized person, drinking is considered a part of everyday life and not too many people go crazy. We treat alcohol and so many other activities and substances like exotic things, so kids act like it’s all “Ooohhhh…. drinking…. when it doesn’t have to be that way.

I think the age for most adult things, within our current societal framework, should be 18–19.

RareDenver's avatar

@Ben_Dover how is my logic any different to yours? Perhaps what needs doing is to raise the age of fighting and dying.

Both result in the same thing “being treated like an adult when you are legally an adult”

phaedryx's avatar

I don’t see connection between being able to serve in the military with being able to purchase/consume alcohol. Are the qualifications the same? I think the argument “I’m old enough to do X, therefore I’m old enough to do Y” is insufficient. You have to show that X and Y are equivalent in some way.

If not, you could make all kinds of claims: “I’m old enough to get a hunting permit, therefore I’m old enough to drive a car. I’m old enough to drive a car, therefore I’m old enough to get married”

mrentropy's avatar

Either you’re old enough to make your own decisions and take responsibility for those decisions, or you’re not. Raise the age of adulthood or lower the age for alcohol consumption.

CMaz's avatar

We should be allowed to smash ourselves in the head with a hammer too if we wish.

Its not about “old enough to kill, old enough to drink”.

One HAS TO BE DONE. And one should be avoided and is never a good thing.

It’s a selfish, childish, and thoughtless discussion.

iamthemob's avatar

@ChazMaz

I know…why do we even have a drinking age when we have to do it?

KatawaGrey's avatar

First off, I would just like to say that I think the whole “if I can die for my country at 18, I should be able to have a drink at 18” is a ridiculous argument. With that logic, we should be able to fight for our country at 16 because that’s the standard age of consent in many states.

However, I do think the drinking age should be gradually lowered until it is non-existent. I went to England when I was 18. There, you can drink in a private home no matter how old you are yes, this includes small children you can drink “soft” alcohol wine and beer and the like in a restaurant at 16 and you can drink anything, anywhere at the age of 18. They have many fewer issues with drinking. Teenagers who drink are way smarter very little of this, “no really, I’m okay to drive” nonsense and there are many fewer people who wind up in the hospital with alcohol poisoning or because they were in an accident with a drunk driver. As i said, I think this lowering of the age would have to be very gradual, say, every two years, lower the drinking age by one year and have similar laws to England’s, that is to say, you can drink in a private home, but there are laws about drinking outside the home.

Like @JLeslie I also think that we should have much stricter laws in the US about drunk driving. I don’t know how it is in other states, but in CT, but it’s the third offense that gets your license suspended for a year. Personally, I think that the first offense should get your license suspended for a year, the second offense should get you jail time and the third should get your license suspended indefinitely.

iamthemob's avatar

@KatawaGrey

I knew it…that was my suggestion. ;-)

trailsillustrated's avatar

I think its fine. In Australia, it’s 18 but you have kids buying alcohol for much younger kids- I know there is booze at parties my kids go to, 14 year olds, and lots of young kids there drink. alot. I think anything to keep young kids from drinking is good.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Well if we’re using the whole ‘if military, then drinking’ thing, I’d rather both the military and drinking happened at 21. But it’s not realistic, whatsoever. In England, it was 16 and I thought that was fine, as well.

RareDenver's avatar

I think everyone is fixating on the military thing a bit too much, it was just an example of being given the freedom to decide something as an adult as was the bit about voting but no one has mentioned the voting.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@RareDenver I agree, I don’t the connection that’s always being made there but since it was mentioned, I wanted to address it.

iamthemob's avatar

@RareDenver

I totally agree as well. We really need to say simply that the discrepancy shows that we are inconsistent in how we conceive adulthood in terms of responsibility and the law, and we really should get our act a little more together.

free_fallin's avatar

I don’t think the legal age being lowered will change anything. Kids will get alcohol just as they always have. I think lowering it would cause more controversy for America than we really need right now. We have enough shit going on dealing with real problems than to worry about lowering the drinking age. Let’s not develop one more thing to divide our country. Eighteen year olds are buying alcohol now. I don’t see a need to change the age. I do agree the drunk driving laws in America need to be stricter. Accidents involving alcohol are still one of the biggest causes of deaths.

Now weed, on the other hand, should have been made legal a long time ago. Then maybe more people will opt for smoking rather than drink alcohol.

iamthemob's avatar

@free_fallin – good perspective – address those causing the harm will probably have a more significant on the harm rather than over-regulating the thing that people can use in a responsible manner.

That said, I’m also all in favor of MASSIVE sin taxes.

wundayatta's avatar

The problem with sin laws is that they don’t work. They are unenforceable. Very rarely do people get caught for violating these laws. Lawmakers are being cynical when they pass them.

There is no doubt that our goal should be to have people drink very little until their brains have finished growing, and in moderation throughout the rest of life. This is an educational issue, not a law enforcement issue.

Laws regulating the sale of alcohol can help limit the amount bought by young people. But laws regulating drinking seem like closing the barn door after the horse has been stolen.

I think the argument about people being sent off to war should be able to drink legally is silly. They still have brains (even if they did enlist) and those brains still need to grow in a healthy way. Of course, the armed services seem to be unlikely to enforce such regulations. They don’t even enforce other drug regulations.

Basically, it seems to me, it’s a non-issue. Changing the law will not change behavior. Underage people drink whenever they want to, anyway.

iamthemob's avatar

Basically, it seems to me, it’s a non-issue. Changing the law will not change behavior. Underage people drink whenever they want to, anyway.

Changing the law will, however, prevent people from getting a criminal record that will drastically interfere with their future…so I think that the issue is still important to discuss (i.e., not truly a non-issue).

CherrySempai's avatar

Yes, I think if we had a lower drinking age, less teenagers would actually drink. In Germany, sure cultures and customs are different, but the drinking age is 16 and from my experience they don’t have problems like our’s. Also, while I love our driving age, I think we should heighten it to 18, and that might solve SOME of the drinking and driving problems. (I might be biased because I’m already past 18, though. =])

This is just my theory right now on the subject, and I’m basing it off of how I’ve seen my friends in Germany and what they’ve said. (They think it’s insane that we can drive at 16, haha. :])

KatawaGrey's avatar

@iamthemob: Admittedly, I didn’t read most of the responses. :)

iamthemob's avatar

@KatawaGrey: Admittedly, I was kind of being self-congratulatory

KatawaGrey's avatar

@iamthemob: In that case, I think you deserve some lurve!

Neizvestnaya's avatar

Not if what @john65pennington writes is true. Aside from that, I don’t think being adept for combat has anything to do with being physically developed to withstand the effects of alcohol.

Seek's avatar

@Neizvestnaya No one is physically developed to withstand the effects of alcohol. That’s why we drink it.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr: I mean in response to what @john65pennington writes about teen brains not being fully formed yet and so susceptible to brain damage from alcohol.

Seek's avatar

I don’t agree with @john65pennington‘s comment either.

Anyone can become addicted at any time, if they are the type of person that is susceptible to addiction. There’s not a magic switch that’s flipped at 21, or 18, or 16 that says “Okay, you’re safe now”. Hell, my grandmother became addicted to opiate painkillers at 65.

The reason 21 is the “legal drinking age” is because conservative groups lobbied Congress to make that the law, in an effort to further control the public. It’s the same bunch of people that want to pretend premarital sex, abortion, atheists, and gay people don’t exist.

JLeslie's avatar

The connection between the military and drinking is if you are an adult, you are an adult. Adults get to make decisions about their own lives as long as it does not serious impact or affect other people in society negatively, such as causing others severe risk to their health and life. Or, that’s how it is supposed to be in my mind. I guess. We could argue the seatbelt law flies in the face of what I just said, but I do agree with that law.

I agree that people can get addicted at anytime. I think people are more likely to have bad drinking habits based on their family example and genetics than anything else; but, of course there are exceptions. My friends who drank the most as teens, had drinking parents. Kids want to act and be grown up, and if drinking is the or example of what grown up is, guess what? Of course, friends and peer pressure have something to do with it, but I think seeing your parents turn down drinks provides a great example for children. I didn’t drink as a kid and either did my parents, except my dad maybe drank 5 times a year when I was young. It did mean I got kind of lonely when I was in Jr High, trying to find new friends who did not party every weekend, but eventually I did.

When my husband lived in Bogota, Colombia years ago they had recently changed the time bars and clubs closed to 1:00 or 1:30, I can’t remember exactly, because they deduced that more accidents happened from people being overtired, because they were up much later than their typical schedule. Clubs were hopping a little earlier, and accident rates supposedly went way down.

perspicacious's avatar

No. I think 26 would be better.

rexpresso's avatar

In countries for example in Europe you can verify that many times a 14 or 15 year old kid is already drinking small quantities of alcohol with parents, like wine or beer at dinner or being allowed to have a cocktail at a grownup party or something like that.

The fact that there is not a parental censorship of the consumption of alcohol, kids actually learn to make safer choices, the fruit is not so much forbidden, and parents who simply warn about the real dangers of the fruit, without infatuation, will have the best outcomes for their children.

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1816475,00.html
http://www2.potsdam.edu/hansondj/YouthIssues/20081015082934.html

rooeytoo's avatar

@rexpresso – I just find that a little bit too simplistic and in my own personal experience have not seen it proved to be true. Also there is much information available regarding teen alcohol consumption in Europe and it is certainly not without problems. A quick google produces this and numerous other information as well.

JLeslie's avatar

I wonder if Mormon teens who have non drinking parents drink less often than the average population in the US?

Aesthetic_Mess's avatar

Yes. I think if you are allowed to smoke at 18, which is more harmful than having one beer for most people, I think you should be able to drink at 18. You can go and die for your country, and decide who could be the next president, but you can’t have a glass of wine?

perspicacious's avatar

The logic of “if you can die for your country, you should be able to drink” is an implication that the public doesn’t understand the rationale of the law. Alcohol is a behavior-altering product and the age limit is set in an attempt to have only the segment of our population who is mature enough to understand moderation and who can/will take responsibility for their actions while drinking. The law is for the public’s safety, not to arbitrarily restrict citizens’ access to alcohol.

mrentropy's avatar

@perspicacious I’m not disagreeing with you, but I can’t think of anything that would be more behavior modifying than being shot at, killing people, seeing people being killed around you, and being shelled.

I’m not even “for” alcohol all that much.

iamthemob's avatar

@perspicacious – Don’t you think that it would be better to reduce regulation of alcohol and increase police presence on the roads, if we’re actually talking about public safety (overly simplified, of course…)

JLeslie's avatar

@perspicacious I would argue an 18 year old is pretty ignorant when making his decision to join the service, their ability to understand consequences, commitment, their feeling of immortality hampers them on many fronts (excuse the pun). I personally know two people who joined up about 7 years ago because they were told they would be able to travel and see the world. That line worked on them while we were at war and losing people every day practically.

perspicacious's avatar

@mrentropy Your statement has nothing to do with public safety.
@iamthemob No, I don’t see any reason to increase police presence on the roads so that younger people may drink alcohol. That’s not protecting the public. The need for a greater police presence is an indication that we are allowing immature people access.
@JLeslie
The whole idea is to permit drinking at an age where people are equipped to handle themselves and be responsible for their actions, including decisions about when to and how much to drink, and what one is capable to safely and legally do after drinking a certain amount. That sounds like around 26 years old to me.

mrentropy's avatar

@perspicacious I never said it did. I was addressing the behavior modification part. If I was 18 and in a situation where my friends are laying about with their guts hanging out I think I would really want a drink at that point.

Seek's avatar

@perspicacious

That’s simply ageism.

I’ve known 12 year olds that were more capable of making good choices than some 60 year olds I know. Are you saying you’ve never met a 27 year old that didn’t know that “just one more” wasn’t a good idea?

iamthemob's avatar

@perspicacious – Age is rarely a proxy for maturity when it comes to alcohol in particular.

weeveeship's avatar

I don’t think that the drinking age is 21 everywhere in the US. I think it is more of a state issue.

iamthemob's avatar

@weeveeship

It is, but not because it’s specifically federally mandated. Louisiana was the last holdout. However, federal funding for interstate highway maintenance is tied to a requirement that the state have a minimum drinking age of 21. So, essentially, the federal government can charge a state billions of dollars in penalties if they don’t conform.

JLeslie's avatar

@perspicacious So? That is my point, if we legally let them make the decision to go to war when they have little idea of what war is like and the psychological and physical toll it takes on many people, then they can screw up their lives drnking too legally speaking in my opinion. Keep the laws and punishments tighter and stricter for drinking and driving, and whatever else can harm others directly. What even happens to a 19 year old who is caught drinking? I have no idea, can they go to jail? Is it permanent on their record and scrutinized if they want to become doctors or lawyers or any profession that needs a license from the state? I find that absurd if they are drinking responsibly.

Most people I know who drink, started drinking around the age of 14. I am not talking about alcoholics or kids who are allowed to taste a little beer or wine, I am talking about kids basically partying together and thinking it and they are pretty cool.

mandybookworm's avatar

okay I just skipped over reading most of the answers BUT if kids want alcohol, they will find it. End of story.

rexpresso's avatar

As for the prevention of traffic accidents, the technology exists today to inhibit a car from running if the driver is drunk. It will eventually become mandatory that cars have such features. And it will be much cheaper than having the police stopping random cars on the road.

As for the age of drinking, I can’t understand how someone is supposedly an adult at 18 and still takes 3 years to be allowed to drink. Is there anything else that doesn’t become fully allowed at 18?

In any case, it’s good that alcohol is controlled. I think 21 is too much. 18 perhaps. In Portugal it’s 16. Driving at 18. It’s easy to get alcohol here. But I know it is harder in the US to get alcohol than heroin, because dealers don’t ask for ID. An argument for legalization and controlling…

rooeytoo's avatar

I don’t think it really makes much difference what the age is, the important part is to make it uncool to get drunk. Somehow it has to be made as socially unacceptable as smoking has become. Recently I saw the front page of a newspaper had a headline about the violence associated with drinking is on the increase and how it must be stopped, no alcohol should be served in glass, only plastic (isn’t that ridiculous, talk about addressing the symptom instead of the cause) but the other headline of the paper was about the wine industry having a tasting at a vineyard and how wonderful it was. To me that is the epitome of irony, but not many seem to see it. Unless you are the rare soul who has a drink or two because you like the taste, not the effect, alcohol is not a good thing, it is addictive, mind altering, makes you physically ill and can kill you or the innocent kid in the car you hit while driving drunk. I know prohibition didn’t work and never will so let Madison Avenue get to work on making it uncool, the way they did with cigs.

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