Is it time to rethink the minimum drinking age in the U.S.?

Many of our West Virginia readers are likely old enough to remember a time when 21 was not the nationwide minimum age for legal consumption of alcohol. It has been 30 years since President Ronald Reagan heavily incentivized all states to adopt the age-21 standard by signing a law to withhold a portion of federal highway funds from states that did not comply.

Every piece of legislation comes with pros and cons, and this one was no exception. On one hand, there is evidence that a uniform minimum drinking age of 21 years old reduced drunk driving crashes and fatalities, especially among young adults. However, some believe that a higher drinking age has led to more binge drinking among young adults. It is also worth noting that criminal charges for underage drinking and underage driving under the influence can have significant negative effects on a young person’s future.

The binge-drinking argument is two-fold. First, a higher drinking age may lead to more binge drinking among older teens because they are not legally allowed to drink in public and therefore cannot be monitored. As such, they may be more likely to binge when they have access to alcohol.

Second, older teens may be more likely to binge drink because of the “forbidden fruit” angle. Most of the rights, responsibilities and purchasing power of adulthood are bestowed at age 18. Because alcohol consumption is not legal until age 21, young adults may be more likely to want it (and to abuse it) because it remains legally forbidden.

So will America ever lower its drinking age? Not any time in the near future, according to a recent Gallup poll. When President Reagan passed the law in the early 1980s, a national poll showed that 79 percent of Americans were in favor of raising the minimum drinking age to 21.

In a similar poll conducted recently, approximately 74 percent of Americans were in support of keeping 21 as the minimum drinking age. Only 25 percent want to see it lowered. American attitudes on this subject have remained essentially unchanged.

Regardless of the minimum drinking age, anyone faced with drunk driving charges has a lot at stake. For young adults, having a DUI conviction on their record could jeopardize plans for higher education and employment. As such, DUI defendants need the help and advocacy of an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Source: Gallup Politics, "Americans Still Oppose Lowering the Drinking Age," Jeffrey M. Jones, July 24, 2014

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