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Taylor Wisnieski Professor Lutz Exploratory Essay 5 October 2011 Effects of Lowering the Drinking Age to 18 July 20, 2008 was a sad and horrifying day for the people of Strongsville, Ohio. This was the day that two teens were killed in a car crash by a drunk driver. Samantha Archer was 18 years old and her boyfriend was 16 when they were killed in a head on crash (Miller). My family was close with the girl and her family, my father went to high school with both of her parents and I have known her my whole life. This is what made me choose to write about the effects of lowering the drinking age to 18. There are many questions I have but one is, does lowering the drinking age to 18 increase the risk of more alcohol related deaths? If the drinking age was lowered would this cause more teens to drink heavily and eventually become alcoholics? And also, since most 18 year olds already have easy access to alcohol now, would lowering the drinking age just allow even young teens to have easier access to alcohol as well? These questions are important to think about for people who plan on voting for the drinking age to be lowered because they may be putting teens in more danger. The first thing we need to look at before these questions can be answered is that in the 1970s the drinking age was lowered to 18 along with lowering the minimum age to vote during the Vietnam War. This lowered minimum drinking age was followed by increases in consumption and sales of alcohol and in alcohol-involved traffic fatalities, especially among teens aged 18-20 years old. Because of this, the National Minimum Drinking Age Act became a

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law in 1984 that made the drinking age 21 again (Wechsler, et al). Clearly teens under the age of 21 could not handle the drinking age being lowered, so why now would teens be able to handle the drinking age being lowered? One issue that I came across is that adults believe that teens will drink in moderation instead of getting drunk if the drinking age is lowered. That’s another question I have, would teens be able to moderate their drinking and not do it just to get drunk or would they abuse the privilege and get drunk more often because they could easily buy alcohol? As I was asking myself this question I came across a study that was from 1960 to 2000. This was a review of 241 studies that examined the effects of lowering or raising minimum drinking age laws. They identified 135 high-quality studies and of those 135, 79 quality studies examined the relationship between the minimum drinking age and traffic crashes, 58% found fewer crashes with a higher minimum drinking age, whereas no study found fewer crashes with a lower minimum drinking age (Wechsler, et al). This just made me feel even stronger about the minimum drinking age being 21 years of age. This proves to me that with a lowered drinking age teens abuse their privilege and get in more car crashes while under the influence than when the legal drinking age was 21. There is still one question that I’ve had left unanswered, would a lowered drinking age cause more teens to drink heavily and maybe become alcoholics? As I began to ask this question to myself I came across an online book that gave a statistic on teens and drinking. This statistic said that by ages 19 and 20, 70 percent of all drinkers engage in heavy drinking, suggesting that the majority of young people are at risk of making poor decisions that have long term consequences (Bonnie & O’Connell). This made me think about how high this number is and since this isn’t even a statistic for people who are 21 and over, that this would just cause these teens to become dependent on alcohol at some point in their lives. It has been proven that the younger you are when you begin drinking the more likely

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you are to become dependent on alcohol when you get older. This is because when people under the age of 21 drink they normally binge drink and eventually become addicted to alcohol or addicted to the feeling of being drunk. One factor you do have to pay attention to though, is that teens who drink in excess underage normally have a family member who is an alcoholic and alcoholism is hereditary. Children of alcoholics are between 4 and 10 times more likely to become alcoholics themselves than children who have no close relatives that are alcoholics (Russell 9). Teens that are under the age of 21 and who drink, normally binge drink because they know it’s illegal for them to drink in public so they have to do it in secrecy which in turn causes them to drink more in order to “have a good time”. This has answered my question, that most teens who binge drink underage are more likely to become alcoholics as adults. Though there are many negative factors, I was determined to try to find something positive about this to prove my theories wrong. Up until 1935 the legal drinking age in Ohio was 16, until it was raised to the age of 18 but you could only buy 3.2% beer. Then in 1987 the legal drinking age was raised to 21. As I was doing research on statistics of when the drinking age was 18 I came across a study. This study was done by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Fatality Analysis Reporting System that was done from 1982-2007 about alcohol-related motor vehicle fatalities, over 50% were caused by 21-24 year olds while only about 45% were caused by 16-18 year olds (Wechsler, et al). I liked how this article was able to show both sides of having the drinking age lowered and having it raised. This is the reason why I chose to use this article is because it gave me information about both sides of the issue, along with statistics to prove it. Since this study was done up until 2007 it also answered my one question about whether or not there are more alcohol related deaths by 18 year olds than by 21 year olds. I was shocked to see that there were

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more 21 year olds in alcohol related car accidents than there were 18 year olds, and it also proved my theory wrong. That doesn’t mean I still agree with the situation at hand, I still believe strongly that if the drinking age was lowered alcohol would be abused by 18 year olds and even younger teens. There are still more things that are pros to lowering the drinking age that we should look at. As I’m wrestling back and forth with whether or not it would be smart to lower the drinking age I came across a pros and cons list on the internet that gave some very good points. When you turn 18 in the United States; you can vote, you can be enlisted into the military, you can serve on juries, and you can get married, you are a full-fledged adult, yet you cannot drink alcohol (“Drinking Age”). I do agree with some of this, you can get married but at your wedding you won’t even be able to drink the alcohol, you can join the military but while over-seas the drinking age may be 18 but when you come back to America you aren’t allowed to drink. You are a full-fledged adult yet you aren’t allowed to drink alcohol in a public place. While still reading this article it also went on to say how since 18-20 year olds aren’t allowed to drink in restaurants or bars it is pushing the underage drinking more underground, which then in turn if someone is injured teens won’t call for medical attention because they are afraid of getting an underage. This reminded me of an article I read on CBSNews. A woman’s son was rushing for a fraternity and they were being hazed as initiation, this hazing consisted of the pledges drinking 10 gallons of hard alcohol and wine in a half hour. When everyone got back to the fraternity this woman’s son’s eyes were rolling to the back of his head and he wasn’t moving. He lay on the couch for 9 hours before someone called 911; he died before help could get there. All the men in the fraternity were underage and that is why they were afraid to have the police come because they would all get in trouble. The boy’s mother believed that if the drinking age was 18 the men

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wouldn’t have been afraid to call the police and her son could have been saved (Streeter). After reading this my view is slowly starting to change, because I agree with that mother that the teens would be more likely to call for help if they knew they wouldn’t have gotten an underage. The last thing I want to look at is how drinking in other countries is legal at a younger age than it is in the states. While I was in Germany two summers ago the drinking age there was sixteen years old, this is because in Europe teens grow up having a glass of wine or a beer with dinner, it’s part of their culture. Drinking in Germany isn’t look upon as something bad and that it should be hidden from teens. This is because the teens are taught to drink in moderation and since it’s not being hidden from them they don’t have to go and get drunk because they know they can do it wherever they want to legally. If teens here were taught by their parents to drink in moderation instead of binge drinking then it wouldn’t be as big of a deal if the drinking age was lowered. I believe that drinking is frowned upon because adults think they are doing the right thing and make their teens better people by not exposing them to alcohol, when in reality they’re only pushing their children to hide their drinking and to binge drink. Overall I can’t say that by doing all this research that it really changed my opinion on whether or not the drinking age should be lowered but I can say I learned a lot from it. I never knew that there were so many alcohol-related car accidents caused by people 21 and over. It really opened up my eyes to the fact that it’s not only underage teens that cause alcohol-related car accidents; it’s mostly people 21 and over. I also came to realize that in a college atmosphere most students are afraid to call for an ambulance if someone is hurt because they are afraid of getting cited for underage drinking, but someone’s life could be in danger. This is where I agreed with lowering the drinking age because it could save many lives. There will always be a debate on the effects of lowering the drinking age, it is solely up to you to decide what is best.

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Works Cited Bonnie, Richard J and Mary Ellen O’Connell. Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility. N.p. 2004. Web. 5 Oct. 2011 <http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=10729>

“Drinking Age”. ProCon.org. n.p. n.d. Web. 4 Oct. 2011 <http://drinkingage.procon.org/>

Miller, Donna J. , :Man Sentenced for Killing Samantha Archer, Marco Dadante in Head on Crash”. The Plain Dealer. Web. 3 Oct. 2011. <http://www.blog.cleveland.com/metro/2009/04/man_sentenced_for_killing_sama.html>

Russell, M. Prevalence of alcoholism among children of alcoholics. In: Windle, M., and Searles, J.S., eds. Children of Alcoholics: Critical Perspectives. New York: Guilford, 1990. pp. 9– 38. < http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa67/aa67.htm> Streeter, Ruth. "The Debate on Lowering the Drinking Age." CBS News 01.Mar.2010. n. pag. Web. 2 Oct. 2011. <http:// www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/02/19/60minutes/main4813571.html>

Wechsler, Henry, and Toben F. Nelson. "Will Increasing Alcohol Availability By Lowering the Minimum Drinking Age Decrease Drinking and Related Consequences Among Youths?” American Journal of Public Health. 100.6 (2010):986-992. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 2 Oct. 2011.

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