Drinking Age

Many people in my generation argue that the drinking age should be lowered to 18, but this is a bad idea. The drinking age should remain at 21 because drinking under the age of 21 has serious effects on brain development, leads to alcohol dependency, and causes a higher percentage of alcohol related deaths. The National Minimum Drinking Age Purchase Act had incentives that encouraged states to raise the drinking age to 21 by 1989. The incentives were provided under the Federal Aid Highway Act; the states that had a drinking age below 21 would have a 10% decrease in federal funds for federal highway apportionment. All states now have their own laws that forbids drinking under the age of 21 with some exceptions. Other countries have their own drinking age laws, most of which allow drinking under the age of 21. The United States should not lower the drinking age because American culture is different from other countries.  American culture does not teach our children how to drink in a safe and controlled way, but rather teaches children that if one chooses to drink than they are to drink heavily, and become drunk.  Children in other countries whose drinking age is lower than 21 or nonexistent, grow up learning to drink in moderation and as part of their culture. The United States, on the other hand, has had constant struggles with drinking in the past. In the early 1800s the United State experienced a Temperance Movement, and then Prohibition was added to the Constitution in the form of the 18th amendment in the early 1900s. Today, the media influences peoples view on alcohol. Most American teenagers believe that the only way to drink it to get drunk. Americans tend to drink in excess which for themselves and those around them creates a very unsafe and destructive environment. The United States has more drivers than almost any other country in the world and because of that, underage drinking and driving is a bigger issue in the US and, therefore, causes more fatalities. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that minimum drinking age laws have saved 18,220 lives and that the laws caused a decline of 63% of alcohol-related crash fatalities among young drivers.During the time of adolescence brain development is at its most critical stage. The younger people begin to drink, the more likely that they will cause a disruption in this developmental stage of the brain.  According to the  NIAAA, the National institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, these disruptions “can lead to mild cognitive impairment as well as to further escalation of drinking.” Up to 80 percent of alcoholics, however, have a deficiency in thiamine, and some of these people will go on to develop serious brain disorders such as Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome. Wicker-Korsakoff syndrome is a syndrome that affects short term memory because of drinking. The hippo-campus is a part of the brain that is important for learning and memory. The hippo-campus was found to be smaller in alcohol dependent people than in nonalcoholic dependent people. The hippo-campus shows the cause of Wicker-Korsakoff syndrome. In one study, Brown and colleagues evaluated short–term memory skills in alcohol–dependent and non-dependent adolescents ages 15 to 16. The alcohol–dependent youth had greater difficulty remembering words and simple geometric designs after a 10–minute intervals. the hippo-campus—a part of the brain important for learning and memory—was smaller in alcohol–dependent study participants than it was in non-dependent participants.

Drinking at an early age can increase the chances of alcohol dependency. Alcohol dependency is four times more likely to develop in people who start drinking before the age of fifteen compared to those who do not drink until at least 20 or older. Genetics are another important factor that can affect dependency. Children of alcoholics are more likely to attempt drinking at a young age, which would already increase that person’s chance of alcohol dependency. Children of alcoholics that begin to drink at an early age are between 4 and 10 times more likely to become alcoholics themselves in comparisons to children who do not have close relatives who are alcoholics. It is important to keep the drinking age set at 21 because if people begin to excessively drink before the age of 21, then they are more likely to develop and alcohol dependency. The consumption of alcohol releases serotonin, which gives the drinker stimulation and pleasure. Alcohol acts as a depressant, but if alcohol is mixed with other drugs, then it will have additional effects. Alcohol can lead to the use of drugs because, through the bloodstream, alcohol passes through the frontal lobe. The frontal lobe of the brain controls judgment and reasoning. While under the influence of alcohol a person is more likely to use drugs because of alcohols adverse effects on the brain. Alcohol is considered a “gateway drug” because it starts the craving for the release of serotonin. The National Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia did a study in 1996 that found:

More than 67% of individuals who started drinking before age 15 went on to use other illicit drugs, compared with less than 4% of those who never drank….An individual who starts who drinking before the age of 15 is 101 times more likely to use cocaine than someone who never drank. (Marr)

People who start drinking under the age of 21 are more likely to develop alcohol dependency. The consumption of alcohol and the abuse of alcohol can lead to drug use. If the drinking age is lowered, then more teenagers will begin to drink and develop alcohol dependency that could lead to drug use.

After the drinking age was changed to 21 nearly every state experienced a 28% decrease in alcohol related deaths. In 1998, 42 percent of 18- to 20-year-old crash fatalities were alcohol-related, compared to 38.4% for the total population. Approximately 5,000 people under the age of 21 die as a result of underage drinking each year. 1,900 of these deaths are a result of driving under the influence. America has more drivers than almost any other country in the world, which means that the United States has more teenage drivers who could possibly be driving under the influence.  If the drinking age is lowered more alcohol related deaths will occur. To keep the roads safe the drinking age needs to remain set at 21.

Teens most often commit suicide while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. Alcohol mixed with conditions such as depression and stress can contribute to suicide. This is the third leading cause of death among people between ages 14 and 25. On study showed that 37% of eighth grade females who drank heavily reported attempting suicide, compared with 11% who did not drink.  Under the influence of alcohol judgment is impaired and could cause people to make choices they would not otherwise make. Alcohol reacts differently mixed with different kinds of drugs and can be harmful to a person. Teenagers are especially vulnerable to these effects because their minds are not matured.



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