This is part of the Youth Rights 101 series. Please check out Youth Rights 101: Introduction for the rest of the series and more information.
Alcohol is dangerous! Why lower the drinking age? Do you actually want kids drinking?!
Lowering the drinking age is not about wanting anyone to be drinking nor ignoring any possible associated health risks. It’s about having the choice to drink, about bodily autonomy, and not being made a criminal for it just because you’re the wrong age.
Whether anyone wants youth to be drinking or not, many of them are. One motive behind lowering the drinking age is to make this inevitable drinking safer, to encourage or teach youth how to handle alcohol responsibly rather than set a blanket ban that if they touch it, they get arrested. The idea is that if they can drink legally in a safe environment, such as a glass of wine with family rather than chugging from a keg at a wild party, this would not only encourage better and safer drinking habits but remove the “forbidden fruit” effect.
Also, as is commonly but appropriately brought up in lower drinking age discussions, the drinking age is 21 yet the age to enlist in the military is 18, that you can choose to sacrifice your body and life on a battlefield but cannot yet very slightly endanger your liver with a glass of wine. Some suggest that then the enlistment age should be raised, but that is far from the only liberty gained upon age 18 that is or can be more dangerous than drinking, and it’s silly for young adults to lose more rights and liberties just because people don’t think they should drink legally yet.
Silly, though unfortunately not unheard-of. Many hotels will not allow under-21s to check in, claiming they don’t want people drinking underage in their rooms. So because of the drinking age, a non-drinking 19-year-old is still discriminated against when he just wants a place to sleep.
Some claim raising the drinking age to 21 in the 1980s saved thousands of lives, but this is questionable, as many other life-saving changes, such as greater stigmatization of and stiffer penalties for drunk driving and other non-age-based road safety rules, came about at the same time. States whose drinking ages were already 21, as well as Canada, whose drinking age is 18 or 19 depending on province, saw the same decreases in fatalities, so it is even less likely raising the drinking age was as life-saving as commonly claimed.
Some support the drinking age because they personally don’t think young people should be drinking, but that really is not what it is for. Drinking age simply makes young people criminals for drinking, allows many businesses to keep them away using alcohol as an excuse, and makes young drinkers afraid to seek help if they or a friend have an emergency. So whether anyone personally wants youth drinking doesn’t matter, since the drinking age does not stop drinking but does encourage discrimination and demonization of the young, and neither of these things can ever keep young people safe.
What do you think? In what other ways is the high drinking age problematic for young people? Tell us in the comments!
Our Drinking Age page
Drinking Age FAQ
Legislative Analysis of Drinking Age History
Our Drinking Age blog posts and articles
Drinking Age papers and research
Why I care more about lowering the drinking age
The Drinking Age Misconception