In 1984, the US federal government approved the National Minimum Drinking Act. This law stipulates that the legal age for drinking should be set to 21 years of age nationwide (Gottfried 60 – 61). Gottfried states that even if the law was already set in place, it was not without its many detractors and the many gaps in its implementation. The law was implemented with the federal government imposing cuts on federal highway projects if they were found guilty not following it. Local state governments, faced with this “budgetary blackmail”, then have no other recourse but to impose the said drinking limit to the age of 21.
Of course, each of the states involved have their own set standards in implementing appropriate laws for their constituents, but given this limitation, they really have no choice but to follow it (Ingraham 148 – 149; Solohub 1 – 2). This issue is still an ongoing debate between those who are for it and those who are against it. Hanson, Venturelli and Fleckenstein (216) list down several reasons which could go against the idea of lowering the minimum legal drinking age or MLDA:
? Wagenaar and the NHTSA (qtd. in Hanson, Venturelli and Fleckenstein 216) point out that a lowered drinking age level could mean that injuries as well as deaths caused by alcohol abuse would be more common. ? O’Malley and Wagenaar (qtd. in Hanson, Venturelli and Fleckenstein 216) both point out that a lowered drinking age level could account for more drinking abuse in the youth, which then could lead to increased alcohol consumption and to the possibility of alcoholism in later years.
However, there is enough reason for people who argue that it should be lowered to be heartened in their efforts of lowering the said age limit. ? Hanson (qtd. in Hanson, Venturelli and Fleckenstein 216) found out that the current drinking age limit barely made any effect in curbing drinking problems in comparison to states with lowered drinking age levels nationwide. It also barely made any dent in alcohol consumption, and has barely any effect on the behavior of the said alcohol drinkers.
These observations are not without merit. Of course, because of the high minimum age level requirement for drinking, Jarvinen and Room (167 – 169) note that it did indeed help lessen the rate of alcohol-related incidents, which include several alcohol-related injuries such as traffic accidents from drunk driving, and problems from drinking, but have little effect on alcoholic consumption and behavior nonetheless.
Alcoholic drinkers in states with the 21 age rule could just opt to get their alcoholic drinks in some other way and enjoy it in some other way – it does not effectively curb their desire to drink in any way. This is because of the fact that setting the age limit does not guarantee that their impulse to buy alcohol would suddenly change. Education, programs and community projects aimed at young people in order to get the real story behind the alcohol problem could only do so much.
With current advertisements also employed that showcase drinking and its supposed “merits” with providing popularity within the peer group and overall general overall tolerance to the idea of drinking in some cultures, it goes much against what a person can actually use to stop himself from drinking – the temptations are everywhere. Then there is the problem of how people deal with the alcoholic drinks as they would any dangerous past time. Of course, excessive drinking of alcoholic drinks is very dangerous.
But as far as some drinkers go, it is how they should enjoy the drink and not taking things too far. Heath and Hanson (qtd, in Solohub 3 – 8) feel more that the said education for children – even before they reach the ages when they start to become too curious and want to experience things they were not able to do before – should focus on drinking responsibly rather than barring them from drinking alcohol. Teenagers, and those of course old enough to drink, should be aware enough their own limitations when it comes to drinking. They should also know when to drink and when not to drink.
With all the misinformation about alcohol as a dangerous substance in whatever concentration going on, any good intention made by state regulations regarding the legal age for drinking could backfire. There is actually nothing shameful about drinking – it is not inherently evil to that extent, and there have been recent studies which points to moderate alcohol consumption that help people have healthier hearts. One can choose to drink or not. And drinking responsibly also comes from what the children witness at their homes. But that is not all.
As what was already stated by Ingraham and Solohub, the National Minimum Drinking Act was the result of “budgetary blackmail” into letting all states in following the strict 21 year old minimum age limit for alcohol. They could of course choose not to follow it, as each state actually has their own laws provided that they are still comparable with the laws stated in the US constitution, but it was still an effective solution in making each state follow it – a cut in funds especially in highway projects that they need in order to continue developing their state economies as a whole.
Pressure from groups at that time – especially Mothers Against Drunk Driving or MADD – as well as current studies at that time that pointed out to the many horrors that could be had from drinking and driving among the youth, were some of the reasons that allowed for it to be signed into law on July 17, 1984 by President Ronald Reagan (Uradnik 126 – 127). In the US, where different laws in each state allow for different interpretations of what to and not to prosecute, Uradnik notes that this has become a continuous frustration for young Americans who have to deal with differing law viewpoints regarding how young or how old they are.
Groups like MADD, Students Against Destructive Decisions or SADD, Remove Intoxicated Drivers or RID have also allowed for the pushing of the Zero Tolerance Law in 1995 that goes for underage drivers not 21 to have almost nonexistent amount of alcohol levels in their bloodstream, and the pushing for the law that would press states to lower the allowed alcohol intoxication rate in the bloodstream as well. Uradnik believes that unless there are other groups which could go head to head with these pro-MLDA to 21 organizations, the cause for having a more tolerant law that would deal with the alcohol drink problem would probably be lost.
But it does not mean that they will not fight back, moreso with several studies which are looking into how the law itself is not helping much in curbing the said problem, and little has changed from when there was still not an MLDA in sight. The stress to have a uniform drinking age is of course very much needed in where the society itself has become much more tolerant of such behavior – at all instances there must be some form of control in one way or the other, indirect it may be.
Ingraham sees the entire turnout of the drinking law events as something which encroaches upon basic freedoms of every American, wherein slight incursions into the law by going around statutes that would most likely paint the law as thoroughly unconstitutional. Of course, groups which see this as an opportunity to put more leverage into their campaign will also use it to their advantage, and so pushing for more laws that serve to inhibit or – if they possibly could – totally stop alcoholic consumption would be more favored than ever, whatever the causes it had to undergo through just to serve their own ends.
Uradnik note that various state interpretations of the law add up to the confusion and even more demands to lower the MLDA. Solohub even comments on how nothing much has changed based on his observations on his own experiences as a college freshman, and then experiencing it again when 2 of his children became college freshmen as well in their own time.
Problems that were still part of Solohub’s memories as a college freshman, with the university officials and respective deans of different colleges in his university extolling the bad effects of alcohol, where alcohol drinking abuse could lead to serious repercussions mentally, emotionally, physically and academically were still part of the precautions his own children’s university orientations have. Indeed, it would be nice that such a law is in place, all for the nation’s well being – a reason why it was pushed to become law alongside pressure from concerned groups and recent findings.
But if Solohub’s ordeal was any indication that it has succeeded – it leaves pretty much to even more debate. Aside from the constitutional and personal account dilemmas that the law has done on the American idea of what drinking really is and why the MLDA should be lowered, there are the calls for responsible drinking rather than prevention of drinking. Heath and Hanson show that responsible drinking, rather than the implementation of strict rules alone, helps a lot more.
In understanding what an alcoholic drink is – as well as understanding one’s limitations, where and when the person could say no or yes to a drink, seeing it as a natural occurrence in social meetings with peers, and understanding what drinking is based from their firsthand experience in their own homes – goes further than what simple don’ts do for community projects and state regulations that miss the point of the whole drinking experience entirely. In cultures where these were understood perfectly, they were observed to have lesser alcohol related problems than what is observed in the US.
And, as Jarvinen and Room also observe, putting the restrictions in place does not necessarily mean that people would suddenly stop drinking – they will find ways to get around those restrictions and have it any other way, and not lessen the alcohol that they would be drinking. If the prevalent attitudes at home are also indifferent to drinking, parents who could buy alcoholic drinks for instance could buy the said drinks for their children, or sometimes the underage teenager could be even helped by some quirks in the said laws themselves – that they could buy alcoholic drinks provided they are accompanied by older guardians or parents, etc.
It is also the behaviors of the drinkers themselves that the laws sometimes completely miss, and they could not pin down entirely in order to curb the said drinking problem. Programs which were intended to help with curbing the said problem of alcohol drink abuse have little effect in changing the young drinkers’ attitudes mainly because of the temptations all around them – and of course, being misinformed about what drinking really is. But what is drinking really about anyway? ? Drinking of course is a serious problem. Just like with other vices – gambling, drugs, etc.
– too much drinking could of course eventually result in a lot of irreparable harm to a person and his relationship with his family and the community he lives in. But by itself – just by drinking – it does not necessarily mean that one should be condemned right away for setting a bad example to the children or to the community. It is bad if taken in excessive amounts and if abused – in moderation, it even helps in promoting good health for the body, and it also allows for a more responsible view of drinking because people understand what drinking is about.
Drinking responsibly is a more mature way of handling the said drinking problem – legislators must also have to deal with the behaviors of people who drink, as well as understanding that in order to curb the said problem, they would have to do more than just seeing drinking as inherently shameful and evil. Drinking responsibly – people who act responsible for what they drink, when and where they drink, knowing their limitations when drinking, knowing when to say yes or no – it is all part of a healthy person’s attitude in dealing with the abuse than some of what the more irresponsible drinkers are doing.
? Drinking responsibly comes from taking a mature look at the problem. All countries in the world could probably try to issue MLDAs that rise even higher and higher; several “budgetary blackmails” could make people stick to following said rules and regulations. But if people refuse to look at the problem as they would face any great problem they would have, the problem would still be there, and several more problems will arise from it if left unchecked. Drinking will become even more of a problem if people seek to put offenders through even more horrendous ordeals just because “they broke the law”.
Drinking should not be punished – it is drinking irresponsibly that should be punished. These constitute the individual’s irresponsibility in making hasty decisions in choosing to drive after drinking, and he continuously abuses drinking when he is aware he is beyond his limit and could hurt himself and people around him. There is enough reason that given all the calls for the MLDA to be made higher or lower, the debate would still not end. However, this is also not a reason to take sides just because drinking has caused a major rift in one’s personal affairs, or because of the fact that they feel about it too strongly.
This is not to make light of the many tragedies that they have probably suffered from such incidents – rather this calls for people to look at the said problem in the face and think for themselves if they had been responsible enough in dealing with the problem. Works Cited Gottfried, Ted. The Facts About Alcohol. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 2004. Hanson, Glen R. , Peter J. Venturelli and Annette E. Fleckenstein. Drugs and Society. 9th ed. Massachusetts: Jones & Bartlett Publishers, 2005. Ingraham, Laura. Power To The People.
Washington DC: Regnery Publishing, 2007. Jarvinen, Margaretha and Robin Room. “Conclusion: Changing Drunken Component Or Reducing Alcohol-Related Harm. ” Youth Drinking Cultures: Experiences. Eds. Margaretha Jarvinen and Robin Room. United Kingdom: Ashgate Publishing, 2007. 167 – 168. Solohub, Roman T. Clear Thinking When Drinking: The Handbook For Responsible Alcohol Consumption. Georgia: Thinking When Drinking, 2006. Uradnik, Kathleen. Student’s Guide To Landmark Congressional Laws On Youth. California: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002.