minimum drinking age in the US

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The consequences of alcohol use on the individual health are considerably severe especially for adolescents.  As a result, the United States the alcohol control policy was enacted which provides that 21 years is the national legal minimum drinking age. Despite this legal provision, underage adolescents are increasingly being involved in drinking and abuse of a variety of alcoholic drinks. It is notable that in the past, some college presidents have supported advocacy groups on reducing the legal drinking age in the US to 18 years (Gerard 35). On the other hand there is growing scientific evidence that supports 21 years as the appropriate minimum drinking age. This is thus considered as the most probable intervention in the reduction of the incidences of underage involvement in alcohol consumption. Despite the intercessions which aim at preventing young people from drug abuse there are opposing views on the age limit. However it is generally accepted that drinking is a problem among the youth in the United States as illustrated by the negative implications of drug use and abuse.  Because of the controversies and debates around the legal drinking age, this research paper gives a critical analysis and discussion of the various views and opinions on this issue and their implication of the legal minimum drinking age.

The minimum legal drinking age in the United States has been 21 years since 1984 (Carpenter, Christopher and Carlos 133). Seven states in the US have attempted to reduce the legal drinking age but majority of the states support the current legal age limit. This demonstrates the differences in opinion among various groups on the alcohol control policy of the United States. Since none of the bills which propose for reduction of the age limit have been enacted in the US, it shows that many people consider the age limit to be a way of protecting the young people from drug abuse.  The public debate on lowering this age limit continue to be supported by the proponents of this issue such as the group of college and university presidents who in 2008 showed that they were discontented with the age limit and advocated for public outcry that would result to the reduction of the age limit. The Choose Responsibility organization supported the reduction of the age limit saying that it should be reduced to 18 years (Miron and Tetelbaum 317). According to this organization, the youth should be given the opportunity of being responsible for their lives instead of forcing a law on them which encourages them to break it leading to increased alcohol use among underage children. The opponents of the reduction of the legal drinking age on the other hand argue that the current law helps in reducing the incidences of alcohol abuse by young people and thus prevent the medical and social consequences which result from alcohol use.

Despite the dilemma that faces the legal age limit for alcohol use in the United Sates, what is at stake should be given the major consideration in discussing most appropriate age limit. It is important to note that most of the young people below the age of 21 are students and the implication on drinking on their academic performance is an important consideration of the alcohol regulation. The impact of drinking on academic performance is at stake if the age limit is reduced to 18 years as it has been advocated by some groups (Carroll & Joseph 4). The support of college presidents who are one of the major stakeholders of the youth affairs on the reduction of the drinking age should also not be taken for granted (Rossow, Ingeborg, Thomas and Kirsimarja 468). This is because of the evaluation of the impact of the legal limit on the drinking patterns of young people by the academic the counsel and management of the youth.

It is evident that the aim of the state in fixing the legal minimum drinking age at 21 is to reduce the incidences of alcohol use among the youth. However, questions on the effectiveness of this legislation in attaining what it was intended for are important issues in the debate on the alcohol control policy. It is likely to be true that enactment of the legal limit would lead to increased drinking among the underage considering that alcohol is readily available in malls, supermarkets, clubs and restaurants (Toomey, Traci, Toben, Nelson and Kathleen 958). It is thus argued that since underage drinkers could only need the help of their 21 year old colleagues and friends to acquire the drinks on their behalf, the enforcement of the alcohol control policy among the youth is difficult in the United States.

The state is a stakeholder on the youth affairs which has acted to limit the legal drinking age. The parents as the major stakeholders of the age limit have greatly supported the 21 year age limit because of the belief that it would prevent their children from indulging in alcohol abuse (Wechsler, Henry and Toben 986). However the fact remains that the law is bound to be broken by the young people as it has happened in the past. The public health agencies are also involved in the support of the age limit of 21 years but some differences have resulted among this group based on the effectiveness of the government legislation on drinking among the young people. The health hazard caused by drinking and the social implication of drinking has been used to justify the support of the law by the proponents of the 21 year legal limit on drinking. On the other hand, the psychological point of view of the current regulatory policy on drinking demonstrates that the current law may facilitate the consumption of alcohol by underage individuals (Fromme, Kim, Reagan, and Dan 21). This is in support of the stand of some groups of college administration because it has been noted that since the enactment of the alcohol control policy on the youth, the use of alcohol by underage college students has not decreased.

The most studied alcohol control policy is the legal minimum age for drinking which would be attributed for the differences in the United States on whether it should be reduced to 18 years. However it is important to note that the common ground of all stakeholders on the drinking problem among the underage is that it has negative implication on the young people and the society in general. There is no group that advocates for abolition of the alcohol control policy because of the health implication of alcohol in addition to the negative impact of drug use on academic performance and social life of the youth. The differences which result to the debates on alcohol regulation among the youth are caused by the practicality of the policy. This is due to the fact that the incidences of drinking among the underage youth in the United States are increasing despite the legal limit of the drinking age (Toomey, Traci, Toben, Nelson and Kathleen 961).

The implications of the debates on the alcohol control act may eventually lead to the review of the minimum legal drinking age. Since some states have in the past tabled bills on the reduction of the minimum legal drinking age to 18 years, it shows that persistent of the debates on this issue would most likely promote the amendment of the alcohol control policy. However the health sector generally views the alcohol use as a societal problem in general which needs immediate intervention to curb the increased addition rates to substance abuse. This is demonstrated by the many number of American youth who are admitted to rehabilitation centers every year (Miron and Tetelbaum 325). The opinion of the health agencies are likely to be influential more leading to maintenance of the federal policy on the 21 age limit as the minimum requirement for drinking.


The relationship between the legal control of underage drinking and the rate of drinking among people below 21 years in the United States beats logic because it shows that the alcohol control policy has not been effective in protecting the youth from addictive substances. The concern of the law enforcement as one of the stakeholders of the youth affairs is that the availability of alcohol would lead to continues abuse of addictive drinks despite the regulatory policy. However, parents of the adolescents who alcohol control policy aims to protect support the policy due to their parental responsibility and concern for their children despite the opposition of the current policy by some groups of school administration and organizations. The debate on the minimum age limit for drinking may thus lead to amendment of the control policy despite the support for the current policy by the law enforcement and the stakeholders within the health sector.


Carpenter, Christopher, and Carlos Dobkin, 2011. “The Minimum Legal Drinking Age And

Public Health.” Journal Of Economic Perspectives 25.2 (2011): 133-156.

Carroll, Joseph, 2007. “Most Americans Oppose Lowering Legal Drinking Age To 18

Nationwide: Six In 10 Americans Support Stricter Penalties For Underage Drinking.” Gallup Poll Briefing (2007): 4-7

Fromme, Kim, Reagan R. Wetherill, and Dan J. Neal, 2010. “Turning 21 And The Associated

Changes In Drinking And Driving After Drinking Among College Students.” Journal

Of American College Health 59.1 (2010): 21-27

Gerard  J., 2007. “Should We Raise The Age Of Legal Drinking?.” Public Policy

Research 14.1 (2007): 31-35.


LIVES?’, Economic Inquiry, 47, 2, pp. 317-336,

Rossow, Ingeborg, Thomas Karlsson, and Kirsimarja Raitasalo, 2008. “Old Enough For A

Beer? Compliance With Minimum Legal Age For Alcohol Purchases In Monopoly And Other Off-Premise Outlets In Finland And Norway.” Addiction 103.9 (2008): 468-473

Toomey, Traci L., Toben F. Nelson, and Kathleen M. Lenk, 2009. “The Age-21 Minimum

Legal Drinking Age: A Case Study Linking Past And Current Debates.” Addiction 104.12 (2009): 958-965.

Wechsler, Henry, and Toben F. Nelson, 2010. “Will Increasing Alcohol Availability By

Lowering The Minimum Legal Drinking Age Decrease Drinking And Related Consequences Among Youths?.” American Journal Of Public Health 100.6 (2010): 986-992


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