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Legal Drinking Age and Its Consequences Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Aug 9th, 2021

Nowadays, the issue of the drinking policy and changes in it has become widely discussed and utterly controversial. Some people consider alcohol as a mere tool of socialization and treat it as if it cannot cause any severe harm. A contrary opinion on the issue exists, and people who hold it support it with undeniable proofs, such as, for instance, abusive and destructive behavior as a result of drinking. Levinthal (2014) notes that “in the eyes of many people, an alcoholic drink is simply a social beverage; in actuality, it is a social drug” (p. 192). It is hard to disagree that many crimes and domestic violence could have been avoided if it was not for alcohol.

However, in many cases, it is not the drinking itself that results in some negative consequences, it is mainly the irresponsible drinking that leads to that. Therefore, it is also important to note that alcohol is not solely a reason for a harmful outcome, but the surroundings and other life factors influence the behavior of a person as well, probably even more. One of the essential sections of this issue is legal drinking and its modifiers, such as age. This paper aims at studying this section thoroughly and discussing the effects of nowadays legal drinking age along with some pros and cons of lowering it.

To begin with, it seems significant to consider the fact that some states have raised their legal drinking age to 21 recently. Researchers claim that it has some benefits, such as a lowered risk of developing alcoholism later in adult life and, in addition, low exposure to alcohol‐related chronic illnesses throughout the lifespan (Plunk et al., 2016). Importantly, it is a widely known fact that teenagers’ bodies and minds are much more likely to suffer from adverse side effects of alcohol than adults. Therefore, it seems to be significant and scientifically proved that not letting teenagers and young adults consume alcohol until a certain age (21) affects their state and life positively.

However, such prohibition can also result in a higher interest of young people towards alcohol, and it can even provoke illegal drinking. Auspiciously, according to Levinthal (2014), a legal drinking age of 21 mostly prevents drinking problems among high school students (p. 200). Although, problematic alcohol consumption and its adverse consequents occur among college students. Apart from some alcohol-related problems, such as troubles with studying and unplanned sexual activities, there are also effects on nondrinkers. Around 30 percent of nondrinkers report being insulted, abused, or embarrassed by a student who had been drunk. There is also a large number of death cases of drunk students reported each year, mostly related to car accidents. Therefore, it is possible to note that, although the legal drinking age averts incidents connected with alcohol consumption among graduates, it results in mostly irresponsible drinking among 21 years old and older. In other words, an increased legal drinking age does not contribute to illegal drinking, although, in general, it affects the drinking pattern of young adults negatively.

What is more, there is a proven correlation between an increased phenomenon of victimization and the age of 21. According to Chalfin, Hansen, and Ryley (2019), “drinking increases at both the extensive and intensive margins when individuals turn 21″ (p. 10). In addition, in this survey, it is claimed that the level of victimization also rises depending on the age, 21 is noted primarily as a critical point. Although it differs for men and women, crime risks increase noticeably for both. For men, it is mostly robbery, and for women, it is more often sexual assaults. Therefore, it is hard to deny that legal drinking leads to adverse effects, such as increased victimization, death accidents, and various crimes committing. However, it also raises the following question: would it help if the legal drinking age were higher? Moreover, would not it increase the level of illegal drinking?

As for argument in favor and against the higher age limit, it is hard to tell with absolute confidence what should and what should not be done. According to the fact that the legal drinking age manages to prevent high school students from irresponsible alcohol consumption, positive arguments may be as follows. Increasing the drinking age limit can help to reduce crimes and other adverse consequences of drinking among not only school students, but also among people studying in college. However, it would merely postpone the problematic drinking outbreak until people become older. Furthermore, an argument in favor of the higher age limit may be a reduced risk of developing alcohol-related diseases since the later a person starts to consume alcohol, the later an illness appears. Nevertheless, in this case, it is also more about postponing and not solving the problem entirely since the fact of drinking is, regrettably, unavoidable.

It seems possible to note that some other regulations may be enacted apart from increasing or decreasing the legal drinking age. For instance, researchers claim that when students take part in some social events and gatherings, the risk of problematic alcohol consumption tends to be lower. According to Layland, Calhoun, Russell, and Maggs (2019), “students who attended Late Night Penn State activities used alcohol less in general and less when they participated compared to themselves when they did not participate” (p. 349). It proves the point mentioned before connected with much more significant influence from surrounding and other life factors on alcohol consumption and general drinking patterns. In other words, when a person, especially a troubled one, experiences some life ordeals or falls under the impact of another troubled individual, it may result in adverse consequences, such as violence and crime committing. Conversely, if a person, even a troubled one, is provided with some activity or task, the risks of problematic drinking are considerably lowered. It is also possible that such a person would not be tempted to drink at all.

Therefore, it is also important to note that society needs some changes not solely in legal drinking policy, but in general public guidance as well. It is claimed that “among the challenges in reducing the harmful alcohol use, there is low political commitment to effective coordination of multisectoral action to reduce harmful use” (World Health Organization, 2018, p. 15). This survey also notes that these challenges include the impact of strong commercial interests that interfere with effective control policies connected with alcohol and established drinking traditions inside various cultures.

The primary challenge in reducing illegal alcohol consumption seems to be the continuing access to alcohol that young people inevitably have in spite of the current legal restrictions on sales of alcohol. Many underage drinkers may be provided with alcohol by adults, some of them are even given the alcohol by their parents. A majority of them report drinking alcohol being a guest in someone’s home. Consequently, it seems to be more significant to deal with the challenges mentioned above first and only after that carefully change the legal drinking age. It is much more probable that these changes will have a positive influence on drinking behavior since they will be performed in a more favorable environment.

To sum everything mentioned above up, it is essential to note that the raised drinking age limit has a somewhat positive effect on young people since it manages to prevent problematic drinking at least throughout the school period without too many cases of illegal drinking. However, a sequential issue is that later, when a person turns 21, a majority of people start to drink irresponsibly, which leads to adverse results. Therefore, an idea of the higher age limit seems to be relevant and reasonable, although it does not solve the main problem. Nowadays, in modern reality, it can only postpone negative consequences and cannot help to prevent them entirely since not only irresponsible drinking results in them. There are more factors to be considered, such as surroundings, social connections, and other life features that are also crucial. Moreover, there are many public and inner government challenges that must be dealt with, such as commercial influence and the pressure of strong traditions. Further debates on the issue between social and government departments are essential, and many problems that are connected with alcohol consumption policies are to be discussed and negotiated.


Chalfin, A., Hansen, B., & Ryley, R. (2019). The minimum legal drinking age and crime victimization (No. w26051). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.

Layland, E. K., Calhoun, B. H., Russell, M. A., & Maggs, J. L. (2019). Is alcohol and other substance use reduced when college students attend alcohol-free programs? Evidence from a measurement burst design before and after legal drinking age. Prevention science, 20(3), 342-352.

Levinthal, C. F. (2014). Drugs, behavior, and modern society. Bergen, NJ: Pearson.

Plunk, A. D., Krauss, M. J., Syed‐Mohammed, H., Hur, M., Cavzos‐Rehg, P. A., Bierut, L. J., & Grucza, R. A. (2016). The impact of the minimum legal drinking age on alcohol‐related chronic disease mortality. Alcoholism: clinical and experimental research, 40(8), 1761-1768.

World Health Organization. (2018). Global status report on alcohol and health 2018: Executive summary (No. WHO/MSD/MSB/18.2). Geneva, CH: World Health Organization.

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