Essay 4 (Is 18 the New 21?)

Throughout the years of the United States’ existence there have been many attempts to control the access and distribution of alcohol for the purpose of correcting the issues associated with the consumption of alcohol. These attempts began with Prohibition when the United States’ government outlawed the brewing, distribution, and purchase of all alcohol. This, however, did not prohibit the consumption and possession of alcohol. The Prohibition Era began in 1920 with the ratification of the 18th amendment and lasted until 1933 when the 21st amendment repealed it. This thirteen-year period resulted in the illegal production of alcohol, as well as underground establishments, known as speakeasies, which served individuals regardless of age. Once prohibition was repealed the minimum drinking age was left up to the states individually. At this time the majority of states ruled that the minimum drinking age would be eighteen years of age. This minimum drinking age lasted until 1984 when the federal government passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act that punished any state with a minimum drinking age lower than twenty-one years of age. Since the federal government stepped in and passed this bill, no state has considered lowering the minimum drinking age and are unwilling to suffer potential consequences of making such a decision, however the minimum drinking age has remained a hot topic nonetheless. (Choose Responsibility) One may ask if these attempts at restricting the production and consumption of alcohol have been successful? If in fact the outcome desired by raising the minimum drinking age to twenty-one years of age has not been reached, than what other avenues could there be that would solve the current issues?

When observing the world’s general minimum drinking age one will notice that the majority of countries have the age set at eighteen years of age. Of course there are different factors that lead countries in their decision such as “cultural influences and collective societal values” which then “coincide with drinking patterns.” For example, Malta, which is a small island in the Mediterranean, has a minimum drinking age of sixteen. Many Americans would balk at this idea, however one must understand the differing circumstances. Malta is a very small island, which means the main choice in transportation is walking. This alleviates the concern of drinking and driving. Another country of note would be France, which is known for its wine. France has its minimum drinking age set at eighteen years of age, like the majority of countries. If one looks at France in comparison to Malta once must realize that France is much larger than the small island of Malta, so of course drinking and driving is a bigger consideration when setting the minimum drinking age. (Crecca) This is something that France and the United States have in common. So why if France’s minimum drinking age set three years lower than the United States’? What, in relation to alcohol, is handled differently? In France the consumption of alcohol is closely tied to the Catholic faith, yet is also a social norm. The European culture also “introduces their children to drinking in their own home under the supervision of their parents.” (Pritchard) This social norm could be explained as a couple of friends meeting at a pub for a pint or two to catch up on the events of the week. This situation in contrast for an American would be a couple of friends meeting up at a bar to relax after a long week and consume two to three times the amount of alcohol. In other words, drinking alcohol in countries with a similar culture to that of France is not a taboo. It is just part of the society in which a group of people can go to the bar and have a few drinks without the need to get drunk. In a study conducted by professors at the University of Otago, in New Zealand, results showed that a lowering in the drinking age actually decreased the frequency and quantity of drinking for twenty-nine percent of the target group, which consisted of sixty-nine women and forty men. These men and women were twenty to twenty-five years of age and were enrolled at the University of Otago. The study was conducted immediately before the change in the drinking age and three months after the change. (Halberstadt) So would lowering the United States’ minimum drinking age to eighteen solve the problems that exist? Could an eighteen-year-old American be responsible enough to drink in moderation, instead of over indulging for the thrill of it?

At what age an individual is considered ‘responsible’ is another factor to consider when looking at the minimum drinking age. When observing the age restrictions in the United States there are many ages at which an individual gains certain privileges. At the age of sixteen an individual can obtain a driver’s license. At the age of eighteen one can enlist in the military, can vote in and on local, state, and federal elections and issues, as well as decide to marry one another. At the age of twenty-one at individuals are permitted to purchase and consume alcohol. So at what age can “young people [be] expected to step up and take responsibility for their own actions and become entitled to the privileges of adulthood?” (Robertson) The majority of these ‘adult privileges’ seem to be granted around the age of eighteen. So what makes the privileges of driving and drinking different? Why is one lower and one higher than the norm? When looking at the requirements to gain a driver’s license one can see that it is not simply granted. One must go through and educational course with a trained educator in order to learn about the laws and consequences if those laws are broken. One must also under go training behind the wheel with said instructor to gain practical experience. This course is completed with a pass or fail written test as well as an evaluation. If the student does not pass the final test and evaluation then the student must wait until the age of eighteen to gain a driver’s license, which brings the age back to the norm of eighteen. So when considering the higher drinking age of twenty-one; what purpose does the higher age serve? One could argue that a twenty-one year old would have a higher maturity level but that would be a rather subjective argument. If there is a need for prior education for one adulthood privilege could requiring it for the privilege of drinking solve some of the issues that we are facing today?

Another consideration one must take when considering this issue is how alcohol can affect the health of an individual. Most know of the affects that alcohol induces on the mind and body: “difficulty walking, blurred vision, slurred speech, slowed reaction times, [and] impaired memory.” (Alcohol’s Damaging Effects on the Brain) Blackouts and memory lapses are of course more serious affects of the over consumption of alcohol. In a study conducted by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism fifty-one percent of a sample population of 772 college undergraduates had reported experiencing a blackout, and forty percent reported experiencing a blackout in the year prior to the study. An even more alarming statistic was the nine point four percent that reported experiencing a blackout within two weeks prior to the study. (Alcohol’s Damaging Effects on the Brain) Another study conducted in 2005 by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services in tandem with the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism looks at underage drinking as a whole and further discusses the health risks involved. The study shows that there are “subtle changes in the [developing] brain [] that have a significant impact on long-term thinking and memory skills.” The study also shows that “consuming alcohol during puberty adversely affects the maturation of the reproductive system.” This is rather concerning as of 2003, the average age of first use of alcohol was about fourteen, compared to about seventeen and a half in 1965. (Underage Drinking) Of course there are a number of factors that can influence the extent of the affects of alcohol such as: “how much and how often a person drinks; the age at which he or she first began drinking, and how long he or she had been drinking; the person’s age, level of education, gender, genetic background, and family history of alcoholism; etc.” (Alcohol’s Damaging Effects on the Brain) With today’s current prevention strategies there is over course the requirement of a license to purchase alcohol, and the consequences for breaking any alcohol related laws. However how are those policies informing the United States’ youth and young adults on alcohol and the potential health risks involved? When does prevention occur? The only prevention programs that exist today are those that are school base. These programs are not standardized and are not required which means that not everyone one will be provided the information. The more informative programs are saved for those that are dealing with the consequences of breaking an alcohol related law. Shouldn’t these policies be more proactive?

In today’s society the most prevalent time in one’s life that alcohol related issues arise is during college. A study conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism showed that “about four out of five college students drink alcohol; and about half of college students who drink, also consume alcohol through binge drinking.” (College Drinking) The typical age range for individuals in college is eighteen to twenty-four year olds. This of course leaves a clear division of underage drinkers and of-age drinkers, which can be a complicated situation for friends that are on either side of that division. There is also an issue of the present culture of drinking during college years. Due to this division between underage and of-age binge drinking becomes more common. Those that are underage are put into a situation in which they must drink in secret and on rare occasions. This of course leads to a multitude of consequences. “About twenty-five percent of college students report academic consequences of their drinking including missing class, falling behind, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall. 599,000 students between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four receive unintentional injuries while under the influence of alcohol. More than 690,000 students between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four are assaulted by another student who has been drinking. More than 150,000 students develop an alcohol-related health problem and between 1.2 and 1.5 percent of students indicate that they tried to commit suicide within the past of year due to drinking. More than 97,000 students are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape and about 1,825 college students die each year from alcohol related unintentional injuries.” (College Drinking) With these staggering statistics one cannot be surprised that schools, such as Oklahoma State University, have begun to require freshman to under go a alcohol education course in an attempt to educate students on general alcohol knowledge. In 2008 there was also a movement supported by over “one-hundred of the best-known United States universities” to debate a lower minimum drinking age of eighteen years old in the belief “that current laws may actually encourage binge drinking.” (Crecca)

One may notice that throughout all of these issues, education is a common theme, or rather the lack there of. The universities that do require freshman to complete a alcohol education course, typically have to course online and simply require it to be completed rather than a pass or fail. These online courses also only supply students with basic information. This information can include information such as the following. That blood alcohol content, or B.A.C., is the percentage of alcohol absorbed into the bloodstream. That a twelve ounce can of beer, a five or six ounce glass of wine, and one and a quarter ounce of eighty proof liquor is equivalent to a half ounce of alcohol. That the liver is the organ that oxidizes and breaks down alcohol. That body size, type and gender affect alcohol’s absorption rate in the body. This program would also most likely mention that the legal level of intoxication is a B.A.C. of .08 for those twenty-one and older while those that are underage is .00 B.A.C. With all this information one may think that it would be plenty, but there is plenty of information that is not covered in the above information and what you do not know can have dire consequences. Things that may not be included are as follows. Carbonated drinks increase the rate at which alcohol is absorbed. A person’s state of mind while drinking alcohol can increase one’s absorption rate. Fried foods, while not being a cure for intoxication, can slow the rate alcohol is absorbed into the body. Also that most D.U.I.s are received in the morning, due to the fact that an individuals B.A.C. has not returned to the legal limit after a night of sleep. Of course there are a plethora of things students are imply not educated on. To note one of the more serious topics not discussed is serious receiving a D.U.I., a citation for driving under the influence, can be and the consequences one may have to face. To begin with the total cost of receiving a D.U.I. as of November of 2013 is roughly 15,000 dollars. This may include all or some of the following: fines, court costs, an alcohol assessment, an ADSAC class, a lawyer, an application for a modified license, a license reinstatement fee, towing, increased car insurance, and an ignition interlock device. Of course each case is based on the individual, yet the cost alone would differ many people from ever getting behind the wheel of a vehicle while intoxicated. As one can see the things that one is ignorant about can simply lead to one becoming overly intoxicated or to more serious consequences such as receiving a D.U.I. Many individuals could have stayed clear of any number of these consequences if there had only been an educational course for them to learn from. (Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services; Oklahoma Restaurant Association)

Past and current administrations have tried to deal with the issues associated with drinking for years, beginning back in the 1920s with Prohibition. However, with every effort that has been made the issues seem to remain if not become worse. There is an organization that was established in 2008 that is currently working for a change in the minimum drinking age. This organization is called Choose Responsibility. Choose Responsibility’s goal is to create a similar to driver’s education, where an individual at the age of eighteen could participate in an alcohol education course that would educate them on alcohol. How it affects the body, the laws surrounding it, and the consequences of breaking those laws. Like driver’s education it would be a pass or fail course, if an individual were to fail than they would be required to wait until the age of twenty-one in order to gain the privilege to purchasing and consuming alcohol. Upon passing the course the privilege to drink at the age of eighteen would be incorporated into a driver’s license in order to prevent falsification. At this point in time if a state were to enact such a program they would lose ten percent of their highway appropriations, which can cost a state tens of millions of dollars. Choose Responsibility is working on legislation that would provide a state with a waiver that would prevent the ten percent loss of highway funding for up to five years in order to test out their theory. Of course the minimum drinking age will be a highly debated topic for years to come. With that in mind, what is stopping any state, or the federal government for that matter, from creating an educational program to educate young adults? This could not only be a way of combating the alcohol related issues faced today as a country regardless of what the minimum drinking age is in the future. (Choose Responsibility)


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