STAFF EDITORIAL: America’s Drinking Age Makes the Country An Outlier Amongst Other Nations

Austin Hojdar | The PhoenixCollege students and drinking have become inseparable ideas in the American zeitgeist, despite nearly half of all students enrolled are below the current legal age for alcoholic consumption.

In the mind of many people, drinking has become an ingrained part of the college experience, even though almost half the students in attendance are legally prohibited from drinking.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) wrote that 80% of college students drink and almost half of that number reported binging in the last two weeks. Based on these numbers, it is clear that the law is not effective in preventing students from participating.

The current legal age for consumption in America is 21. Most other countries around the world have a much lower age at 18 and some even 16.

At least eight countries and regions have the legal drinking age set at 16, including Italy. In most of the world — including Australia, France and the United Kingdom — the age is 18, according to World Atlas

It wasn’t until 1984 when the National Minimum Drinking Age Act made 21 the legal age for consumption in America, according to the Alcohol Policy Information System. Before the act, the legal drinking age was 18, according to the NIAAA. 

Having stuck with 21, the U.S. has made itself an outlier when compared to other countries.

Many students entering college have just turned 18, officially becoming adults. At this point in their lives — apart from the newfound independence college provides — 18-year-olds have many rights that seem much more serious than drinking. 

Students can sign a legally-binding contract. They can enroll in the military and kill for their country. Adults can vote in national elections and alter their nation’s future. 

Further, these 18-year-olds can go to prison and be charged with a crime as an adult.

These facts alone illustrate the immense disconnect between how the government views 18 and 21-year-olds. 

Based on the statistics from NIAAA, most students are going to drink once they get to college, regardless of their age. Whether they’re purchasing a fake ID or being served by an of-age classmate, the law will be broken by a lot of students.

The systems in place contribute to mass incarceration of which America is already the leading perpetrator, according to The Sentencing Project.  In Illinois, nearly 130,000 arrests were made for underage drinking between 2000 to 2019, according to the Illinois Criminal History Record Information.

Changing the law would also make drinking a less rebellious act, which is arguably much of the appeal, as college students grapple with their newfound freedom from their parents.

The culture in America — for better or worse — has evolved past the point of 21 being the legal drinking age and practically encourages breaking the law.

If 18-year-olds are old enough to get a tattoo, purchase a firearm and get sued, they should be allowed to drink alcohol.

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