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!

See Also:
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
Choose Responsibility


  1. Ageism in US law is the most illegal—and is the true wrong, contrary to the claims made by convenience store propaganda. It cannot be because of anyone’s bad campaigning that these laws were ever enacted; rather, it was by preexisting belief that overwhelmed fact. We have always been able to start fighting for our rights by engaging in them, anyway; and demonstrating to lawmakers that the laws they have made are illegal, and that they deserve punishment for them. That has been the start of this free nation. Because the law cannot touch freedom, anyway, even those in a dictatorship can find a way to make this fact known to their possibly-criminal, definitely unethical rulers.

  2. Oh, and did I mention the Ninth Amendment of the US Constitution? “The enumeration of the Constitution, of certain Rights, shall not be denied or disparaged by those retained by the people.”

  3. A perspective from the other side of the counter…

    I manage a liquor store. Every day, I card dozens of people who come through my store, because if I don’t, I can be charged with a felony for endangering the welfare of a minor.

    Even if the person is 20, they’re still considered a minor in the eyes of the law, at least in regards to alcohol.

    Every week, I hear a report on the news about stings being done all over the region, and what stores were caught. There are always at least three, and sometimes as many as ten. Frequently, these stores (and clerks) are caught because the police are using people just shy of their 21st birthday, who look much older (facial hair is often seen on the police academy cadets used for these stings). So because of this, I have to hold up a line of people to run ID cards through a machine that reads the data encoded on the bar code.

    It’s a pain in the ass. And it’s even more a pain in the ass when people don’t have their ID, have to run out to their car to get it, or bitch and moan because “come on, don’t I look old enough to you?!” It’s more stress and hassle out of my day, and more fear that maybe I should have carded that last person, even though she looked almost 40, because one just can’t tell these days… and what if she was 20, but I just can’t read ages well?

    But guess what; those stings net millions of dollars for state and local governments every year due to fines. Half the time, they don’t even have to pay for the stings themselves – the local ones are usually run by Catholic Charities.

    I would love to see the drinking age eliminated. It would make my life (and my business) that much easier, and engender a greater sense of trust in my customers.

    But it will stick around for as long as the other alcohol-related crap does (three-tier distribution, direct shipping laws) – all in the name of Protect The Children.

    I’ve never hated three words more.

  4. Foxfire, what you are doing is called theft. Whether or not you send a cheque later, you are taking goods without paying for them. It is illegal, makes prices higher (because stores have to make up for that loss somehow) and puts inordinate amounts of stress on the clerks, managers, owners, and police in the community you are stealing from. It also puts you in danger, because all it takes is one over-zealous clerk chasing you down the street and tackling you in the name of anti-theft practices for you to be seriously injured.

    No. It does not make my job easier. It just makes you look like an ass.

  5. I would also like to point out that minors in many courts are being mandared to 12 step AA and NA meetings, that also have sexual predators and violent felons being mandated by by the adult courts as well to the very same meetings as the minors!

    Teens have experienced sexual abuse and harassment by AA and NA members, and this practice of mandating minors to AA and NA meetings needs to stop. We discuss these issues at

    AA or NA have NO meetings for minors only.

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