There’s been an ongoing debate about the minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) in the U.S. since the National Minimum Drinking Age Act was passed in 1984. The federal law requires people be 21 years old to buy or possess alcohol. Some people feel that requiring people to be 21 to drink just makes underage drinking more of a problem and doesn’t align with other minimum age restrictions like joining the military or owning a gun. On the other side of the debate, people argue that young adults are less likely to drink responsibly, and that alcohol can damage the still-developing human brain. Some proponents of drinking age limits feel that the U.S. should raise the drinking age even higher — to 25.
Pros of Raising the Drinking Age to 25
Some people believe raising the legal drinking age to 25 is imperative because of considerations like emotional and physical maturity. They also say the minimum drinking age saves lives by reducing the risk of danger to oneself and others. Here are a few reasons why they believe the legal drinking age should be raised to 25:
Protects Brain Development
Much research has shown the damaging effects of alcohol on brain development in teens and young adults. The brain is still undergoing crucial developments until age 25, and some scientists have found evidence that it keeps developing until as late as age 30. Young adult and teen drinking can interfere with brain development, causing long-term consequences like:
- Damage to the hippocampus resulting in issues with memory and learning.
- Damage the prefrontal cortex, which can impair judgement and impulsivity in adulthood.
- Damage to the brain’s white matter, negatively impacting brain cells’ communication with each other.
- Greater risk for conditions like mood disorders, ADHD, PTSD, and other mental health challenges.
Prevents Drunk Driving Fatalities
There is a strong correlation between drunk driving and youth. Data shows that since the drinking age was raised to 21, there has been a significant decrease in alcohol-related car accidents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that raising the drinking age to 21 saved 31,959 lives between 1975 and 2017. Furthermore, some research has shown that people aged 21-25 are the most likely age group to drive after drinking alcohol.
Decreases Underage Drinking
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), after the drinking age was raised to 21, alcohol consumption in people aged 18 to 20 decreased from 59% to 40% in the six years following the change. Drinking also decreased from 70% to 56% during the same period in people aged 21 to 25.
Lowers Addiction Risk
Some research suggests that around 90% of adults with substance use disorders drank as teens or young adults. Proponents argue that raising the drinking age can help stem the addiction epidemic in the U.S.
Cons of Raising the Drinking Age to 25
People who don’t think the drinking age should be raised and should potentially be lowered feel this way for a number of reasons. Some believe it’s a form of ageism, actually encourages underage drinking, and may put lives at risk because underage drinkers may be worried about reporting emergencies.
Raises the Thrill of Underage Drinking
Having a rebellious streak is part of the teenage years and sometimes continues into young adulthood. Youth are trying to develop their sense of self, and this often means pulling away from parents and questioning other authority figures. It’s a normal part of growing up. The parts of the brain responsible for impulsivity and decision-making are still under construction. This combination can fuel underage drinking. Critics of raising the drinking age argue that this change will just extend that “thrill” of asserting your independence against authority for a longer period given that we know that the brain continues developing well into the 20s.
Discourages People to Get Help in Emergencies
Some people believe lowering the drinking age can prevent medical emergencies and dangerous situations from becoming worse or deadly. They maintain that people who are drinking illegally may not call 911 if a friend is in trouble or an accident has happened because of drinking for fear of getting in trouble with the law or with their families. Many may not know that most states have laws in place that protect them from legal ramifications if they report an emergency.
Doesn’t Align With Other Age Restrictions
The United States is one of a handful of countries with a drinking age of 21. Proponents of keeping the drinking age at 21 or lowering the drinking age even more argue that European countries don’t have the same underage drinking problems as the U.S. They say that because people can drink legally at a younger age, it takes the allure of “breaking the rules” through alcohol consumption and so less youth drink. However, recent data shows that this is simply not the case. Around 50% of European countries have higher intoxication rates among teens and young adults, and also have similar binge drinking patterns.
Proponents of keeping drinking age limits at 21 or lowering the drinking age say that the law is counterintuitive to other minimum age laws. They point to the fact that people can own a gun, join the military, vote, and be convicted of a crime as an adult at age 18, so not allowing people to drink until age 21 is a form of ageism.
The Truth About Alcohol
Whatever side you’re on in the debate about minimum drinking age, the truth is that alcohol can be dangerous and deadly at any age. When alcohol use progresses to alcohol addiction it takes over your life. If you’re worried about your drinking or that of a loved one, reach out to Footprints to Recovery. We provided evidence-based substance abuse treatment that will help you take back your life.