Is the drinking age in the United States just?

December 10, 2011

Political Theory

Recently in lecture we have discussed law and the idea that “an unjust law is no law at all.”  I certainly agree with this, statement.  But what laws in the United States possibly can be applied to this statement?  One of the first laws that come to mind is the legal drinking age of 21 in the United States.  College student have writhed in agony over this law ever since it was instituted by state governments between the years of 1984 and 1988.  The United States is one of five countries to have the legal drinking age at 21 years of age.  Every other nation has set it at a younger age or has no drinking age at all.  So, why the move from 18 years old to 21?  The truth is that the consumption of alcohol is extremely harmful for people in this age range.

In the medical community it is well known that the consumption of alcohol for individuals under the age of 21 is extremely harmful to the human body, and particular the human brain.  The human brain continues its development until around the ages of 21 to 22 years old.  Before the human brain has fully developed alcohol consumption can slow down or “retard” the growth of the brain which can lead to lower levels of test-taking ability and memory loss amongst many other things.  Is this not enough justification for the law?  I certainly believe that this law is justified.  Do I personally find it frustrating that it is illegal for me to consume alcohol as a young adolescent trying to experience the thrills of College?  Absolutely, but I still support the law.

College students and many other young adolescents who are not of the legal drinking age openly protest against this law and break it.  Certainly this is considered a scenario where people feel as though this unjust law is no law at all.  It is clear that throughout the nation a massive portion of the United States population finds it acceptable for underage kids to drink.  Parents around the country drop their kids off at ‘open house’ parties in high school where they without doubt know their children are going to drink.  Every year during June parents are always throwing graduation parties for their child’s conclusion to High School by openly serving everyone alcohol, and including the seventeen and eighteen year old graduates.  Is this right? I honestly do not know, but I know for a fact it is illegal.  What I also do know is that for every beer or shot a kid is drinking they are putting themselves more and more at risk of the serious damages alcohol can inflict on their undeveloped brains.

The United States government may have not understood the cultural backlash that was going to follow the changing of the legal drinking age, but they sure understood the fatal implications of alcoholic consumption on underdeveloped brains.  I believe that they made the right choice. Do you believe they did?  Do you believe the drinking age should be 18 or 21, or perhaps should there be none at all?  Additionally, do you believe that with the social acceptability of underage drinking in our country today that this is a case of an “unjust law being no law at all”?


Links to sources on worldwide drinking ages and the effects of drinking on undeveloped brains are provided below.



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14 Comments on “Is the drinking age in the United States just?”

  1. jacobdockser Says:

    I believe that the drinking age should be left up to families to decide for themselves. Parents ultimately will be the judge of when they feel comfortable with their kids drinking, just as they decide when their kids are able to drive a car, go to the mall alone, and go to parties. I believe that this will increase trust and understanding between parents and children and allow drinking, especially in high school and college, to be done carefully and not be dangerous binge drinking.

    • akmcoy Says:

      I agree with what jacobdockser said about the parents being the ultimate judge. I think that in today’s society, the parents’ decision is more important than the actual law. In high school, it was more so parents preventing kids from attending parties than the actual law. When parents and their kids are open about the topic and have an understanding of the others’ view, it leads to increased trust and I think safer situations. For instance, I had several friends who’s parents knew they were drinking and going to parties in high school. Some even helped give kids safe rides home after parties to avoid drinking and driving, and other bad decisions like that. I think when the parent-child relationship is that open and understanding with each other, it turns out to be safer than a situation where the kid needs to hide underage drinking from his parents which may force them to make poor decisions (such as getting in a car with a drunk driver). With that said, I don’t think parents have a right to determine their child’s legal drinking age. At the same time, I don’t think the law accurately reflects societies view of when it is acceptable to start drinking. I think the most viable option is lowering the drinking age to what it used to be, 18.

  2. thelenj1 Says:

    I do not agree with this law. The drinking law should be lowered to 18 because this is when an individual officially becomes an adult. If one can serve in the army or vote they definitely should be able to drink. In addition, if the government is so concerned about the well-being of its people then why in most states is the smoking age only eighteen. Smoking is, if not more detrimental to one’s health relative to drinking. Furthermore, more than 70% of the population is believed to drink before the age of 21. If the drinking age was lowered then a large portion of these kids would not be trying to hide their drinking. This way they could be better supervised by police and adults. This could result in less alcohol related accidents. Also, Countries that have lower drinking ages have had less alcohol related problems. Two examples are Italy and China. All of these reasons make it seem more rational to lower the age.

  3. rfieds Says:

    I do not think the drinking age law is just. I believe that it should be lowered back to 18 for several reasons. Currently, the drinking age law has created an environment where alcohol is much more desirable for young adults. They are forcing drinking and binge drinking in unmanageable environments, which is leading to alcohol poisoning and other alcohol related problems. It is evident that most young teens and college students drink and there are countless statistics which prove that. If we lower the drinking age, there would not be a sense of young teens and college students drinking in unmanageable settings and trying to circumvent the law. In addition, parents and teens would be more dedicated to teaching and learning how to keep drinking in moderation. This way we can reduce the alcohol related incidents that infiltrated college campuses on a daily and weekly basis. Also, if an 18 year old can go to war, fight for his or her country valiantly, but cannot come back from his or her’s service and have a sip to drink, what message are we sending? This lack of balance in the law is what creates a lack of respect for the law. Overall, I agree that the drinking age should be lowered to 18.

  4. lkpeacock Says:

    I think it is hard to say that in all circumstances it would be better if the drinking age was lowered to 18 rather than staying 21. Being college students, we all know it is extremely easy to get alcohol no matter what age you are. Yes, going to bars is off limits, but just walk into a house party, and you can stumble upon a tub of “jungle juice.” Honestly, I do not find it to be such a huge problem. Everyone in the country is affected by it, so it’s not as if only certain groups have to deal with the law.

    I agree with previous comments that stated the relationship between parents and children will help educate them most effectively. Drinking, knowing how much is too much to drink, being aware of it’s affects, and knowing what is safe to do after drinking is something parents should teach their kids at a younger age because they do not know if their children will end up in certain situations that will encourage them to drink.

    I think it is a little strange that our country allows 18 year olds to go into the military but will not allow them to drink. It seems strange that they expect people to risk their lives, but they put restrictions on them concerning drinking until they are 21. However, knowing that your brain does not stop developing until you are 21 or 22, it’s nice to know that health is a factor that the government takes into consideration when making laws. I do not know if I think this law is unjust because it has some positives and negatives.

  5. taypond Says:

    I agree with all previous comments about if your able to serve in the military, you should be able to drink. However, I believe that someone that’s still in high school should not be able to purchase alcohol. Therefore, I believe that this law is unjust and the drinking age should be lowered to 19. For the people who commented about parents being able to determine the age their kids can drink, It’s a good idea but unfortunately its easy for kids to rebel and lie to their parents. Another reason I think the drinking age should be lowered to 19 is because I think it would decrease the abuse of alcohol. I believe the abuse of alcohol is greatly increased because there are so many people that drink before they are 21. Abusing alcohol could be more harmful to the body than drinking with an underdeveloped brain. Therefore, it could be better for people’s health to lower the drinking age to decrease alcohol abuse rather than keeping the drinking age at 21 because the brain is underdeveloped.

  6. habavol Says:

    The drinking age is a tough one to determine. First of all, I think 18 may be to young, because kids in high school can be at the age 18, and it just seems wrong in my opinion.
    But then again 18 is the legal age of being an adult. People at the age of 18 can buy cigarettes and enlist into the military, so if they can harm themselves with cigarettes and fight for the country why not allow them to drink? I personally think drinking is better for you than smoking, so either move the age to buy cigarettes up to 21 would make the most sense to me. But then again, I’m under the age of 21 myself, and I feel like I am capable of drinking responsibly.
    So I feel this law is just yet unjust! Hard one to decide on.

  7. beaurh Says:

    The drinking age set at 21 does nothing but makes a 21st birthday that much more fun. It is unbelievable to me that I can enlist and serve my country but could not come home to my family and enjoy a drink. As JacobDockser said above, it would be a much better idea to lower the drinking age and encourage a working relationship between parents and their children. Kids start drinking and driving when it is 3 am and have no safe ride home. It’s either drive or drive at that point, sad but true. Instead, kids should be able to trust their parents and ask for a ride home. They may be reprimanded, but it is a lot safer than the alternative.
    I believe that the drinking age should be 19. Agreeing with habavol, 18 does seem a little young because once 18 year olds casually drink, that will influence the 14 and 15 year olds. 19 seems like a happy medium, the majority of kids are out of high school and hopefully on to higher education. A congratulatory beer at that point, I believe, is acceptable.

  8. reidmech7892 Says:

    As a whole, alcohol consumption is and never will be good for you. However, many things we do and partake in aren’t “healthy.” For example, eating McDonalds is awful for your body, but there is no “age” limit to eating a Big Mac solely because all of the detrimental nutritional contents are harmful to your body, especially at a young age. As with alcohol, people eat McDonalds because it’s quick, accessible, and tastes good. Similarly, alcohol is not good for you, but people choose to consume it for similar reasons: to some it tastes good, makes them feel good, and can make some situations more fun. In no shape or form am I supporting underaged drinking, but I do not believe that the health effects alcohol has on the body should be a reason to have a drinking age limit, considering many other things we consume are harmful to our bodies in a similar fashion.

    Additionally, I believe that raising the drinking age limit from 18 to 21 actually did more harm than good. With drinking labeled as illegal throughout a person’s college years, it causes the underaged drinker to not only crave alcohol more but also causes them to want to drink more. Since it would be illegal to consume alcohol, once the underaged student gets his or her hand on the alcohol and are wishing to drink, they will feel obligated to drink it all in order to not “waste” the drink and take advantage of the opportunity, which being illegal they do may not have the luxury of doing all the time. Contrarily, if the drinking age was still at 18, I believe that people, especially in college years when alcohol is more prevalent, alcohol will be consumed in more moderate levels since the 18 year old will know they can drink legally, without the risk of maybe not having the opportunity again.

  9. Rainyo Says:

    The 21 and up law is not exactly well thought out. I can see how by marking 21 as the legal age of consumption the government believes it is protecting the youth to hold some water-I mean, alcohol can be harmful to brain development, especially on a brain that isn’t fully developed. But the weird thing about it all is that, no matter what, anything in excess is detrimental to one’s health. It’s not like after the age of 21 our brains are immune to the effects of alcohol.

    The issue here lies in the American over-consumption. American’s tend to have the most trouble out of all nations with how much is too much? French people are known to be healthy and fit because they eat more meals a day, but smaller portions. Compare that to restaurants that have ‘biggie” sizes, bottomless fries, eating challenges, etc. Have you seen the drink sizes at Wendy’s? The ‘small’ cup is huge! The same goes for alcohol consumption. In America people drink excessively in order to get their desired buzz or, for some, blackout drunk. In other countries, like Spain, Italy, and Mexico, to name a few, drinking is a more romanticized practice that involves a glass of wine at dinner rather than drunken teenagers doing keg stands.

    If there was no drinking age, I think a lot of these problems concerning D.U.I.’s and M.I.P.’s wouldn’t be as prevalent because people from an early age would be taught that alcohol is something that can be enjoyed sparingly instead of being hyped up as this enigma that is reserved for people 21 years and up.

  10. scottmha Says:

    To start, I agree with the statement that drinking is very detrimental to a developing adolescent brain (especially 18-21). I also agree, that this law has been widely violated across the country and it has made it close to being somewhat non existent. With that being said, there is no way I can support the current drinking of age of 21, simply because it’s enforcement is clearly not working. If the main goal of this legislation is to stop the age group of 18-21 from drinking, because it is very harmful from a neurological stand point, and the law has become highly abused by this cohort, why not try a new approach? What should the new approach be well thats a hard question to answer, America has had a lengthy and complicated history with alcohol abuse. But I do believe that the law is unjust, and thats why it is so socially acceptable to drink underage.

  11. lukeythekid Says:

    I recently had to write a paper that included this subject, and what I found in my research completely backs up your findings regarding development and alcohol’s influence on school. Not only does alcohol have a biological effect on brain development, but it also interferes with schoolwork. Whether directly (as people drink rather than study, or maybe are hungover during class) or indirectly (they have social problems that affect them), drinking absolutely lowers GPA. Having the drinking age at 21 should theoretically negate some of these effects by preventing these habits until students are about done with their undergraduate years. However, as we all know, students can acquire alcohol incredibly easily by either having upperclassmen help them out or by taking the more direct path and getting fake IDs.
    The government, despite a lot of evidence to the contrary, is not entirely composed of idiots, and they know that these laws do not have an overwhelming effect on the majority of kids. However, it frees them from the dirty hands of knowing that they allowed kids to drink at an age during which drinking is detrimental to development. They have to say that drinking under 21 is bad and illegal, yet they realize that they have to power to change people’s habits. The law is just, because despite the argument that “you can serve in the military” etc., the issue is not about when you’re an adult as much as it is about when alcohol will become less of a danger.

  12. verlong Says:

    I definitely agree with you on the points you made in your post! Very few people our age do, which frustrates me. I always make the point about the brain developing, but people don’t seem to think that that is important. Many people also bring up the argument that people are “old enough to know the consequences” at 18. I disagree with that completely, and even if it were true, would that justify allowing people to ruin their bodies? I think the government made a great decision with the drinking age being 21. Do I also get annoyed that I can’t join my friends at the bar or have a beer while watching football with my parents? Sure. But I understand and support the law.

    I only went to one grad party where alcohol was served, but I was pretty annoyed when I was there. I saw some of my friends’ siblings drinking when they were only 14, and parents were right there. Instilling the idea that that kind of behavior is okay in someone that young could possibly lead to bad things, and I don’t think that it’s worth it.

    One thing that you didn’t bring up is the matter of the affect that a lower drinking age would have upon high school students. The amount of alcohol that they currently have access to would skyrocket. The fact that they get alcohol at all from friends and siblings who go to college is bad enough, but if they were able to get alcohol from their own classmates, that would be horrible. Especially with our society’s attitude toward alcohol, the students would go crazy, and the country would experience more problems; more alcoholics (and at a younger age), a higher dropout rate, etc. I don’t believe that it is worth it.

    I’m glad to hear someone else agrees with me! Interesting post. Now we just have to convince our friends to think our way as well.

  13. rmwells3 Says:

    The law is justified for various reasons, but do I agree with it? No. I wish I could drink since a lot of other laws seem to support and trust the 18 year old mind. We can legally smoke, enter the army and vote, but we can’t drink almost makes the justification for the 21 year old drinking age law seem hypocritical. Why all of sudden, can we not make responsible decisions on our own? Where did the trust you put in us as young adults on those prior issues go? Although there is risk in underage drinking, i find that with the law implemented our drinking behavior and responsibleness significantly decrease. Therefore, and maybe this is a solid argument, if the main reason behind the 21 year old drinking age is safety, the law is unjust and counterproductive. However, it is more logical to keep it and the justification behind it as is.

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