Legal Drinking Age in the U.S. Term Paper

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Legal Drinking Age in the U.S.

Minimum Legal Drinking Age (MLDA) legislation aims to reduce alcohol use among those under 21, to prevent traffic deaths, and to avoid other negative outcomes. The minimum drinking age is a controversial issue in the United States today, and many recent efforts have aimed to reduce or qualify the minimum legal age at which drinking may occur. If these attempts are successful, the minimum drinking age would be lowered and the effects would be disastrous. Alcohol consumption poses many dangers to young people, including increases in accidents, fatalities and alcohol abuse problems. Therefore, this paper presents an argument in favor of keeping the MLDA at 21.

Proponents of lowering the drinking age argue that young people under the age of 21 tend to drink in a more abuse manner than do those of legal age, as alcohol is seen as a "forbidden fruit." One such proponent is Dr. Ruth Engs, Professor of Applied Health Sciences at Indiana University in Bloomington. According to Engs (Alcohol and Youth Issues, 2004): "Although the legal purchase age is 21, a majority of young people under this age consume alcohol, and too many of them do so in an irresponsible manner. This is largely because drinking is seen by these youth as an enticing "forbidden fruit," a "badge of rebellion against authority," and a symbol of adulthood."

Those in favor of proposals to reduce the legal drinking age say that lowering the drinking age would send the message that drinking is, in itself, not evidence of maturity; instead, responsible consumption for those who choose to drink is evidence of maturity.

After Prohibition, which restricted alcohol in the United States, most U.S. states restricted access to alcohol, designating 21 as the minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) (Kuhn, 1998). Between 1970 and 1975, however, 29 states lowered the MLDA to 18, 19, or 20. These changes took place when the minimum age for other activities, including voting, also were being lowered.
Researchers analyzed the effects of the lowered MLDA, focusing mainly on the incidence of motor vehicle crashes, the leading cause of death among teenagers. Several studies in the 1970s revealed that motor vehicle crashes increased significantly among teenagers when the MLDA was lowered (Cucchiaro et al., 1974).

Because it was proven that lower drinking age resulted in more traffic injuries and fatalities among young people, many individuals and groups pressured states to restore the MLDA to 21. Soon, 16 states increased their MLDAs. Pressure from other states, and concern that young people would travel across state lines to purchase and consume alcohol, caused the federal government in 1984 to enact the Uniform Drinking Age Act, which mandated reduced federal transportation funds to those states that did not increase the MLDA to 21.

In 1982, when many American states had minimum drinking ages of 18, the majority (over 55%) of fatal crashes involving young drivers involved alcohol. Since the drinking age was raised to 21, the alcohol-related traffic fatality rate has been cut in half. Research estimates that between 1975 and 1997, more than 17,000 lives have been saved.

According to Cynthia Kuhn's book, Buzzed, the human brain does not finish developing until a person is around twenty years old. According to Kuhn (p. 94): " "It is no accident that people are educated in our society during their early years, when they have more capacity for memory and learning. However, with this added memory capacity may come additional risks associated with the use of alcohol."

In studies using animals, young brains are vulnerable to dangerous effects of alcohol, particularly on learning and memory function. If this is true of people, then young people who drink may be "powerfully impairing the brain functions on which….....

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