The Old Spaghetti Factory caters to a wide demographic of people. With a family-friendly atmosphere, and reasonably priced menu, this venue attracts all types of people. There are families celebrating birthdays, couples on dates, and many high school seniors who simply want to share a delicious meal and a few drinks with their friends. Each year, 17 year-olds look forward to their upcoming birthdays as they will finally reach adulthood, for now they will be able to legally vote, marry, serve in the military, and drink… at least if they are living in Winnipeg, Manitoba—a province in Canada.
In the United States however, the age at which one is legally allowed to consume alcohol (21), and the age of adulthood (18) are completely at odds. Once an “adult,” one can get married, vote for our leaders, and serve our country. However one is not adult enough to go for drinks with friends. It is high time, that all adult freedoms are granted at the age of adulthood, age 18. The change of the drinking age, being as controversial an issue as it is, would face many critics if lowered. However, if done the right way it would bring the laws of adulthood into alignment.
The first issue needing to be dealt with is why the drinking age is set at 21. The American Medical Association (AMA) published the article “Facts About Youth and Alcohol,” which gives a brief history of the drinking age in the United States. The article states that after prohibition, the drinking age was set to 21 in most states. However between 1970 and 1975, as the minimum age for freedoms, such as voting, were lowered, 29 states lowered the minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) as well (1).
Because not all states had a drinking age of 18, many young adults would cross state lines in order to be of legal drinking age, therefore causing a spike in alcohol related accidents among young adults. Because of the accidents advocacy groups, such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (M. A. D. D. ), began pressuring states to raise the MLDA back to 21 (1). Then, under the Reagan Administration, the Uniform Drinking Age Act was passed. In an article written for The Times Leader, in Pennsylvania, Stories Sheena Delazio and Rebecca Bria explain the act in more detail.
Under the Uniform Drinking Age Act, states that did not change the MLDA to 21 would lose federal transportation funds (1). Without those federal funds, many state highways and roads would have gone into disrepair, therefore making a large incentive to state governments to raise the MLDA (2). By 1984, all states had an MLDA of 21, and it has been that way since. Delazio and Bri also contend that since raising the MLDA, alcohol related car crashes have decreased, thus preventing accidents and the untimely deaths of many.
However, what they may not realize is that by saving those lives, the Uniform Drinking Age Act has put other lives at risk, the lives of many college students. Binge drinking is cause for the main argument to set the drinking age back to 18. Binge drinking, defined by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention is when a man consumes five or more drinks, and a woman consumes four or more drinks, in a span of two hours or less. For some college students, this unsafe and unhealthy habit has unfortunately become a common practice. Barrett Seaman gives an example in his book “Binge: What Your College Student Won’t Tell You. He writes about a Hamilton College Student who was hospitalized after consuming 22 shots of alcohol in her dorm room with friends. Such hospitalizations are common around college campuses, and although that is an example of a terrible situation, it can be much worse. Take the example from Michael Clay Smith and Margaret D. Smith in his article “Treat Students As Adults: Set The Drinking Age At 18, Not 21,” of a student who died because he consumed beer and at least 12 shots of vodka in a span of two hours at a fraternity party (1).
Situations like these happen every year, and with 44 percent of college students who admit to binge drinking, it will undoubtedly keep happening until the majority of Americans realize that the minimum legal drinking age of 21, isn’t working (1). In fact, in another article titled “The Drinking Age Should Be Lowered to 18,” Michael Smith contends that “ setting the drinking age at 21 is itself one cause of our present alcohol problems. He believes that the current age drives college students to drink to excess in unmonitored and dangerous places, and by the previous examples, I couldn’t agree more. Jeffrey Kluger, who wrote “How To Manage Teen Drinking (The Smart Way),” is also in agreement. He asserts “[that if] drinking were legal, it would take place in the open, where it can be supervised… When the drinking age went up, the spigot wasn’t turned off, it was simply moved underground… where no adult could keep an eye on it” (2). He is acknowledging that raising the age did ot stop 18 year olds from drinking, instead it popularized unsafe drinking habits. There are still critics that will say lowering the drinking age will not work, and it will actually cause more drinking among 18 year olds. However Seaman gives the example of McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Nearly 2,000 Americans are enrolled at McGill, and he concedes that although many young Americans do, at first, go overboard, when finals roll around drinking takes its place as a privilege, not a priority (238).
Another example, of where an MLDA of 18 works is in Winnipeg Canada. The Old Spaghetti Factory scenario laid out in the beginning of this paper, was actually an observation I made when my friends and I traveled to Winnipeg for Spring Break. Our experience was that although the drinking age was 18, people were not taking it to the limits, and drinking to excess. I observed that people went to the bars more to socialize than to get drunk, which is the perception of what goes on at parties and bars here in the United States.
Seaman and I agree that a younger drinking age works in Canada, and that it could work in the United States, if implemented the right way. However, before this change can take place, young adults need to become more aware of the dangers of excessive drinking. The United States would not give a soldier a gun without training him or her first. A person would not vote for president without first having a background knowledge of the candidates running and what they stand for. Therefore we cannot just change the drinking age without first educating young people about alcohol abuse.
Many schools already have health class where safe habits are discussed, if schools implemented a program about safe practices when it comes to the consumption of alcoholic beverages, and this education was furthered by positive examples set by older peers and parents, a younger drinking age has the potential of being successful. The drinking age has been a controversial issue since prohibition was repealed, and arguments about the minimum legal drinking age will always be around. Although the Uniform Drinking Age Act of 1984 was successful at saving some lives, it put the lives of others at risk, and opened the gateway to binge drinking.
As alcohol related hospitalizations and death tolls rise from the amount of binge drinking, there is no question that something needs to be done. “Underground” drinking and unsafe drinking habits need to be broken. The only way this can be done is by better educating young adults about the dangers of binge drinking, making it socially acceptable to drink in an area monitored by adults, making sure that positive examples are set by responsible adults, and of course, lowering the drinking age to 18.