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America’s Rigid Views on Alcohol

By Caleb Coggeshall

Once upon a time, the American government used to trust its citizens with alcohol.Then came Prohibition, and after everyone saw how ineffective it was, the it was repealed in 1933. For close to fifty years, the drinking age hovered anywhere from eighteen and twenty-one years old, depending on which state one lived in. Then came the National Minimum Drinking Act of 1984, which punished states who served or sold alcohol to anyone under twenty-one (it didn’t necessarily ban the consumption for people under twenty-one). This all begs the question: Why does the United States have to deal with these laws, bans and procedures while most other countries don’t?

My uncle and my father told me there was a time when their parents would say: “Go down to the tavern real quick and have them fill up this jug with beer.” The bar owner knew the kid wasn’t going to drink, because they both had pretty good idea of what would happen should the child arrive at home with a half empty bottle of alcohol. On top of that, it just wasn’t that big of a deal: everyone knew everyone else and they all trusted one another. Of course allowing minors to purchase these items probably wasn’t allowed in every single town fifty to sixty years ago. But what happened to our culture this is not allowed anymore?

The main problem seems to be that America has not taught its children how to be responsible with drinking for several decades. Beer, liquor and wine seem to be almost taboo until kids reach sixteen or seventeen. Most of the public schools teach our children that drinking underage is not cool, that alcohol is bad, that you’re a deadbeat if you drink and the list goes on. Schools rail on about underage drinking being uncool, and yet they bring in the most uncool motivational speakers to convince kids to stay away from grandpa’s cough medicine. Is it any wonder that high school students go to drinking parties?

In fact, the U.S. is one of the few countries on the globe where the drinking age is as high as twenty-one. In most other countries, drinking by eighteen years old is not seen as scandalous or inappropriate. The World Health Organization finds that:

“in many European countries where the drinking age is 18 or younger (and often not enforced), 15 and 16 year-old teens have more drinking occasions per month, but fewer occasions of dangerous intoxication than their American counterparts. In many southern European countries roughly one in ten of all drinking occasions results in intoxication, while in the United States almost half of all drinking occasions result in intoxication. In these countries the introduction of alcohol typically comes from parents. In the United States, where the drinking age is 21, parents are not legally afforded that opportunity, and as a result initiation to alcohol consumption is not responsibly controlled.”

It’s almost embarrassing how far behind the rest of the world the the United States is in terms of drinking ages. We are riddled with unconstitutional checkpoints and commercials reminding us that the cops are watching our every move. On top of this, young adults have to resort to fake IDs, pre-gaming, and giving an older friend money to buy beer. Why is this? Is it that Americans don’t trust their fellow citizens, or is just another case of a government picking out an arbitrary number because it knows best?

Unfortunately this issue does not really seem to be at the top of a lot of legislators (federal or state). This matter will have to be chipped away at steadily over time and it will not happen overnight. Despite all of this, there is a small glimmer of hope. California, Minnesota and New Hampshire are now considering lowering the drinking age to eighteen. They are considering it; nothing has been voted on yet. But the fact that these states are reviewing this kind of legislation should give freedom lovers a little bit of hope.


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