Legal Drinking Age
When it comes to the issues of alcohol consumption and abuse, it is apparent that America's youth are among the largest group of users and abusers. Although statistics indicate that, overall, the youth population of the United States drinks far less than their parents did at the same age, "Half the students age 10 to 24 questioned in a 1999 study by the Centers for Disease Control said they had consumed alcohol in the preceding month". Given this reality, there is an impetus to curb drinking among teens and prevent the social ills that are associated with dirking at this age-i.e. driving drunk, promiscuity, and alcoholism.
One of the most pertinent responses to the problem of teenage drinking has been the debate over the efficacy of raising the legal drinking age above 21. In scientific studies, this move has proven quite effective.
- The drinking age increase benefited in that states on average reduced drinking among high school seniors 13.3%.
- The change also contributed to a 58% drop in alcohol-related auto deaths among 15- to 20-year-olds since 1982
- Researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore have found that the age of an individual's first drink has marked impact on overall behavior. The study noted:
Children who start drinking before age 15 are five times more likely to be alcohol dependent as adults. According to other studies, kids who start drinking early are also 10 times likelier to be involved in a fight after consuming alcohol, seven times likelier to be involved in a car accident and 12 times likelier to be injured.
Looking at what research has shown, it is clear that raising the legal drinking age would significantly decrease the overall occurrence and prevalence of teenage drinking. While this reality seems quite clear, the next issue that must be addressed is what should be done when teens below the legal drinking age are found drinking. Many states have enacted or proposed legislation that suspends a teen's driver's license if they are found to be consuming alcohol, even if they are not behind the wheel of a car at the time of their arrest. The question is whether or not this form of punishment should be continued and/or expanded as a method to deter underage drinking. Undoubtedly, the answer to this question is yes.