The legal drinking age in the United States is 21 and has for more than 20 years (as of 2011). Prior to that the legal age was 19 briefly and before that it was 18, between 1970 and 1976, when teens could legally purchase 3.2 per cent alcohol beer. The age was raised due mostly to concerns about drinking-related deaths among teenagers.
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Those who are against lowering the legal age of drinking maintain that teens do not handle alcohol responsibly and are at risk of killing themselves or others when they choose to drink and drive.
Easier Access by Even Younger Children
Another concern is that if 18 year old kids have access to alcohol this creates easier access to alcohol by those even younger.
The American Medical Association maintains that death and injury rates increase when the legal age of drinking is lowered and the rates decrease when the legal age is 21, which is the benefit of maintaining the present legal drinking age.
Even though underage teens still manage to get alcohol and drink it, it appears they drink less and experience fewer alcohol-related injuries when the drinking age is 21. According to MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers), before the age limit was raised to 21 there were more underage drunk drivers involved in twice as many fatal traffic crashes as there are today. MADD notes that teenagers get twice as drunk as adults and react differently to alcohol than do older people.
Arguments for keeping the legal age of drinking at 21 include protecting teens from the potentially negative consequences of drinking along with saving their lives, such as preventing them for created an alcohol-related car wreck. Another argument is that postponing drinking until later lessens the chance that an individual will become alcohol-dependent.
The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission stands behind the 21 legal drinking age law because it believes that binge drinking is higher among teenagers when the legal age is lowered and points out the negative health effects that drinking can have on those whose brains are not fully developed. Alcohol has an impact on decision-making, memory, coordination and a cognitive ability. Drinking can lead to risky behaviour such as unprotected or unplanned sex and the consequences as well as a propensity for alcohol abuse at a very young age.
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- Forbes: Legal Drinking Age Opinions; Authors Jeffrey A. Miron and Elina Tetelbaum; April 2009
- Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission: Policy Position; Andy Lewis; August 2008
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- American Medical Association: Alcohol and Other Drugs
- Youth Rights: FAQs