I think the issue of the drinking age has a lot of moving parts. Setting the drinking age to where it is today wasn’t simply picking a number out of a hat. There were issues of health, politics, industry and even culture that went into the equation.
Health is probably one of the biggest concerns as alcohol can cause detrimental effects to the brain during key developmental periods. The human brain doesn’t stop developing and maturing until 25 years of age and drinking and abusing alcohol can cause some long term detrimental effects. As the alcohol content rises in the bloodstream different parts of the brain are affected: the cerebral cortex (inhibiting thought thus making it hard to think properly), then the cerebellum (making it hard to keep your balance), next is the hypothalamus and pituitary (increase in sexual urges) and finally the medulla (causing sleepiness, slower breathing and lower body temperature). In the short-term, “blackouts” can occur resulting in memory lapses but long-term risks can lead to permanent damage such as the brain shrinking and deficiencies in the fibers that transmit information to the brain cells (HowStuffWorks).
I have been wondering whether lowering the drinking age would even help the alcohol industry all that much. I think it would to some extent because you basically open the floodgates to a larger population but do I think that lowering the drinking age would help revive the large brewing companies like Anheuser-Busch or MillerCoors? Not entirely but I think it could provide a bit of cash flow because kids could purchase alcohol from grocery stores instead of stealing from Mom and Dad’s fridge. I also believe that if the large brewers thought this would help their sales then we would be hearing more noise about it (they have a lot of lobbying power). The largest beer market segment is between the ages of 35-44 years old, who make up 23.2% of the beer drinking market (according to IBISWorld). This means that even if the drinking age was lowered to 18, they probably wouldn’t become a large part of the beer drinking segment anyway.
I do however think that a lower drinking age would have a positive impact on craft beer and even homebrewing. Young people would be able to buy beer that matches their palates and start developing their own tastes. There would be no need to get the cheapest and most easily accessible beer anymore. I also believe that homebrewing could become more of a family tradition and could be a positive teaching opportunity for parents and their children.
I feel that culture is the biggest issue with drinking in America. Parents can sometimes make alcohol seem like the “forbidden fruit”. This causes kids to want it more and may lead to problems of alcohol abuse. Alcohol is supposed to enhance food and although it can sometimes serve as a social lubricant, it is misunderstood. Parents should teach their children to respect and understand alcohol at home. Drinking with your parents at dinner should no longer be frowned upon or something to brag to your friends about. Having a glass of wine or beer at home should be commonplace. I feel that this would help kids understand what wine and beer are meant for and how they can serve a purpose other than getting drunk. Moderation and responsibility is key and if that can be taught instead of the “alcohol is evil approach” I believe we will all be better off.
Prohibition set alcohol back a long way because people during that time were simply drinking to get drunk as opposed to enjoying the occasional drink. America also adopted this “abstinence only” educational approach to drinking. They made alcohol seem to be the enemy and that anyone who partook in drinking (when they weren’t supposed to) were punished. No one ever took the time to show people the attributes of alcohol and how it could enhance food.
With all things taken into consideration I believe the drinking age should be lowered to 18 or 19 in certain areas. College campuses and military bases would be my main arguments as to where we could “test drive” the new policy. These areas would allow for more oversight and control over the drinking process. College campuses are rampant with underage drinking and if you were to lower the drinking to where freshman could consume alcohol with seniors it could become a much safer environment. Instead of ripping shots and chugging beers secretly in a dorm room they can be served as adults on campus bars and regulated. Colleges could also create on-campus bars that would allow students a place to go while bringing extra money into the school, providing a safe place for students and even provide learning opportunities for Hospitality Management students.
Kids are going to drink regardless of whether it’s legal or not (especially in college). Why not provide a safer, more regulated way for them to do so. No kid should ever have to worry about calling the ambulance because their underage friend is sick with alcohol poisoning. We should try to repair the “alcohol is evil” mentality and put more emphasis on safer drinking habits as opposed to the “prohibition approach”. Share and teach about wine, beer and spirits in a responsible way.