Lowering the Drinking Age
American youth alcohol policy is a perfect example of drug policy with unrealistic expectations and serious unintended consequences. Our current policy attempts to prevent underage drinking by criminalizing youth who consume alcohol before they are 21 years old. This is the highest drinking age that exists among all countries in the world, and millions of dollars have been spent on the enforcement of this law. Yet today, more than 90% of high school seniors claim that alcohol is “fairly easy” or “very easy” to obtain, and nearly half have admitted to drinking in the past 30 days.1
Most of this debate is centered around the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984, which forces states to raise their drinking age to 21 or be subject to a ten percent decrease in federal highway funding.2 The country should not have a blanket policy on alcohol because it excludes the consideration of alternative policies that may help to promote safer consumption. State legislatures should be allowed to enact policies that they believe will reduce the overall harm of alcohol use.
The current minimum drinking age forces young people to experiment with alcohol in unsafe environments and leads to a higher level of binge drinking among youth. Additionally, as a result of this minimum age law, schools often provide “abstinence-only” education, which is far less effective at preventing abuse than programs that encourage responsibility.3
One undisputed issue with our current alcohol policy is the effect of age segregation. Entertainment establishments are encouraged to deny entrance to legal adults who are not of drinking age, and this limits where and with whom these young adults are allowed to spend free time.
SSDP does not have an official position on what the minimum drinking age law should be because we believe it is up to the states to find what works best. It is most likely, however, that 18 or 19 years of age would become the minimum.
Get Involved in the Campaign!
The most effective way you can help is to start an SSDP chapter at your school! Get started here or contact us for more information.
SSDP chapters can help push for more sensible alcohol policies in a variety of ways. Promoting discussion and debate about this issue on your campus is a great way to get people thinking. Chapters can also lobby their school president to sign the Amethyst Initiative and lobby their student government to sign on in support of a debate on lowering the drinking age.
1 Alcohol: Trends in 30-Day Use, Risk, Disapproval, and Availability in Grades 8, 10, and 12, Monitoring the Future – 2008 data http://monitoringthefuture.org/data/08data/fig08_14.pdf
2 Title 23 of the United States Code, Highways. (PDF file, see Section 158) http://epw.senate.gov/title23.pdf
3 Effective Alcohol Education: What Works with Underage Youths, David J. Hanson, Ph.D http://www2.potsdam.edu/hansondj/YouthIssues/1116635269.html