Many groups make a number of arguments about the state of the current legal drinking age and few seem happy leaving it at 21 where it has been for many years. One of the persistent political and social debates in the argument surrounding adolescents’ rights and privileges involves the age at which they can drink alcohol legally. At present, the legal drinking age for alcohol in the United States is 21, which is higher than the legal drinking age in many other developed countries (Heather & Stockwell 213). Advocates who have an argument in support of lowering the drinking age contend that if they have certain rights and responsibilities that seem more “adult” at a younger age—such as fighting for the country, paying taxes, and getting married—they should certainly be allowed to drink. These advocates who make this argument about lowering the legal drinking age also suggest in their argument that the current legal drinking age simply promotes illicit drinking of alcohol, as many teenagers have experimented with alcohol, and some heavily and persistently, long before they reach the age of 21.
Although the above argument about lowering the drinking age may be legitimate, the argument against lowering the drinking age is also a valid one; furthermore, it is a more compelling and persuasive position. Research substantiates the contention that the legal drinking age should remain at 21. Put simply, teenagers have not developed the cognitive, social, and psychological mechanisms that are needed to make thoughtful and logical decisions about alcohol use; in addition, their bodies have not finished their physical maturation process. Thus, the government’s changing the legal drinking age from 21 to a lower age would be the equivalent of endorsing the short-circuiting of the maturation processes that are vital to human development and which pave the way for responsible participation in society. In short, the research that supports an argument that the drinking age should not be raised should trump general opinion.
Those individuals who would like to see the legal drinking age lowered from 21 to 18 often argue that the legal drinking age in Canada and many European countries is in the mid- to late- teen years, and they further argue that this lower drinking age has not resulted in the unraveling of the social fabric (Heath 28). As some researchers and social scientists have pointed out, however, drinking trends among younger people have changed significantly in recent years as the influence of American advertising and the availability of American products have become more pervasive (Heath 231). While the argument that a lower legal drinking age may be based on the data from other countries, one must remember that the culture of alcohol is different in many of these countries and should not serve as a valid starting point for an American argument about the legal drinking age. Again, science and research should spearhead any argument made in favor of reducing or raising the legal drinking age.
Interestingly, on a cultural note in terms of the argument against lowering the drinking age, the fact that younger teens are permitted to drink has contributed, researchers suggest, to an increase in binge drinking that has been associated with a surge in injurious and fatal accidents, social deviance, and increased distance between adolescents and their parents (Heath 231). Thus, those who support the argument about retaining the legal drinking age of 21 in the United States point out that the vision we have of European alcohol use is highly romanticized, even dangerously so.