In the United States, on the day you turn eighteen, you spontaneously transform from a teenager into an adult. You get the right to vote, join the military, donate blood, rent/purchase a living space, get married without parental consent, smoke cigarettes, purchase a vehicle, get called for jury duty, and many others. The list of “adult things” that you can legally do is endless, but one element of adulthood that remains illegal at age eighteen is drinking alcohol. Citizens of the United States cannot legally consume alcohol until they turn twenty-one. We allow for eighteen year olds to fight for this country and vote for its government leaders, yet we continue to prohibit their right to consume alcohol. If eighteen is the age of so-called adulthood in the United States, then why is it that adults do not have the right to make their own decisions in regards to alcohol?
One of the most convincing claims used to justify the current legal drinking age is that it would be medically irresponsible to allow eighteen year olds to consume alcohol. Alcohol consumption interferes with early adult brain development and can lead to potential chronic problems, such as addiction or memory loss, yet smoking cigarettes, a legal right that eighteen year olds have, can lead to various respiratory diseases as well as lung, throat, and mouth cancers. We allow for eighteen year olds to harm their bodies with cigarettes, but restrict them from doing so with alcohol. Secondly, alcohol has been proven to cause less harm to the human body if consumed responsibly. In fact, it is commonly known that drinking small amounts of alcohol is actually beneficial to an individual. According to Mayoclinic, moderate consumption of alcohol reduces the risk of developing and dying from heart disease, while smoking cigarettes reduces one’s life expectancy.
Having the legal drinking age set at twenty-one has supposedly led to a decrease in drunk driving fatalities, yet research shows that the decrease in drunk driving fatalities within the total traffic fatalities does not correlate to the MLDA (Minimum Legal Drinking Age). Regardless of what the MLDA is, traffic accidents and fatalities are most common among newly-legal drinkers. Any increase in drunk driving traffic accidents in 18- to 20-year-olds would be offset by a decrease for those 21 and older. In reality, studies have shown that there are fewer drunk driving traffic fatalities in many countries with MLDA of 18.
The stigma against alcohol consumption at an age under twenty-one holds minimal leverage over tennagers who wish to drink alcohol. An MLDA of 21 is largely futile because the majority of teens continue to consume alcohol. According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, underage drinking accounts for 17.5% ($22.5 billion) of consumer spending for alcohol in the United States. In 2006, 72.2% of twelfth graders reported drinking alcohol at some point in their lives. Promoting responsible drinking to eighteen year old adults would prove beneficial, and lowering the MLDA of 21 back to 18 would reduce the number of underage people who harm themselves from alcohol-related injuries as they do not seek medical attention due to the fear of legal consequences. The United States lawmakers should take a moment to consider whether or not alcohol consumption should become a right every adult has rather than a privilege granted to those at or above the age of twenty one. Adults 18 and over are expected to have the rights of any adult, so why do we bar our own adults from alcohol?