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Age Is But A Number Essay, Research Paper

Alcohol, a colorless, volatile, pungent liquid, it can be burned as fuel, is used in industry and medicine, and is the intoxicating element of whiskey, wine, beer, and other fermented or distilled liquors has been a part of American culture and society since the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock (Websters New World College Dictionary). Humankind has had a relationship with beverage alcohol for over 6,000 years (Hanson, In My Opinion It s Better to Teach Safe Use of Alcohol ). Alcoholic drinks are a part of our meals, festivities, and social interactions. Prior to 1987, the legal age to purchase and consume alcohol varied from state to state, but in July of 1987 the minimum purchase age became 21 in all states. This change was justified by the concern over the alarming number of alcohol related automobile accidents and fatalities. In 1998, the Transportation Department reported that there were 15,935 fatalities in which alcohol was involved in the crash (Wald, At a School, the Unbelted Go Unfed ). While the seriousness of driving under the influence cannot be ignored, the means by which the government chooses to attempt to remedy it is distasteful. The institution of a blanket policy that ignores the root of the problem will never proscribe unwanted behavior. The government s choice to prohibit the consumption of alcohol by individuals under the age of 21 is an example of poorly thought out legislation and should be revised to make the drinking age 18.

Argument 1: The Instituted Drinking Age is Arbitrary & Inconsistent With Its Reasoning

Whereas, it is agreed that young children should not consume alcoholic beverages, in choosing an age for regulation the process should not be arbitrary. The concept that a 20-year-old goes to sleep the night before their birthday, and suddenly awakens the next morning with a newfound sense of responsibility is absurd. The fact that you reach legal drinking age on your 21st birthday does not automatically qualify you to consume alcohol responsibly (Dionne, Caution! Student Drinker ). Whereas, it is not held that the age of 18 is any less obscure with regards to acquisition of responsibility, the laws of the United States govern that most areas of responsibility are bestowed upon an individual at the age of 18 not 21. The American population at large would be better served to reconsider the 21 year age limit on drinking  an arbitrary age extorted from states by the federal government. All other rights and responsibilities of adulthood and citizenship are conferred on individuals at 18 (The UTD Mercury, Legal drinking age should be lowered ). In the eyes of the law, an individual over the age of 18 is considered an adult and can be punished as one in the courts. At the age of 18, one can vote, and at the age of 18 males must register with the selective service. The government that allows 18 year olds to choose the future political leaders of our country, and fight for the freedoms and rights we hold so dear, proscribes them of a right that even the communist country of Cuba affords their citizens at the age of 18. In the U.S., an 18 year old can apply for a credit card, own a house, or buy a gun but cannot order a glass of wine with their meal. What is wrong with this picture? In drafting legislation, the government should be more cognizant of the message they are trying to send. Laws governing voting rights, sacrificing one s life for their country, and ownership of firearms all deal with the question of responsibility. The concept of when an individual is responsible is rendered vague and uncertain by the statute making the legal drinking age 21. Arbitrary and vague legislation should never be tolerated by the American people, for that is the first step towards despotic rule.

Argument 2: The Drinking Age of 21 Limits Teaching Of Responsibility

The average individual, at the age of 21, is either in their junior or senior year of college. College is time for individual growth, and experimentation with boundaries. Most college students live away from home and are thus out of the reach of their parents rules or guidance. The primary concern of proponents for keeping the drinking age at 21 years is responsible drinking. However, the way the law is now, restricting any sort of alcoholic consumption until the age of 21 is much like telling young people to `just say no to driving, fail[ing] to teach them to drive, and then on their birthday giv[ing] them drivers licenses and turn[ing] them loose on the road (Hanson, In My Opinion – The Legal Drinking Age: Science vs. Ideology ). If drinking is such an immense responsibility, why do we choose to grant this privilege at an age when most individuals are beyond the scope of parental control and guidance?

If the drinking age were lowered to the age of 18, however, the individual would more than likely still be in high school and living at home. Thus, the drinking experience can be one that is monitored by the parents, and responsible alcohol consumption could be taught through role modeling and educational programs (Engs, Forbidden Fruit ). The idea that the young learn valuable lessons be experimentation and will eventulaly learn to regulate themselves is preposterous (Dionne, Caution! Student Drinker ). Responsible drinking is something that needs to be taught, it is not inherent knowledge. Young people [need] to learn at home from their parents and from other adults how to handle alcohol in a responsible manner it behooves us as a nation to change our current prohibition law and to teach responsible drinking techniques for those who choose to consume alcoholic beverages (Engs, Forbidden Fruit ). The education needs to start in the home, and first and foremost, parents must set a good example by using alcohol only in moderation, preferable with meals, and never suggesting it as a solution to stress or other emotional problems (Brody, Personal Health: Coping With Cold, Hard Facts on Teen-Age Drinking ). Unfortunately, most parents aren t teaching their kids anything about alcohol and this can be attributed to the fact that 21 year olds are experiencing alcohol for the first times away from their parents (Brody, Personal Health: Coping With Cold, Hard Facts on Teen-Age Drinking ).

Argument 3: The Older Age Limit Makes Drinking More Appealing

A majority of college students under [the age of 21] consume alcohol [and] when they have the opportunity to drink do so in an irresponsible manner because drinking by these youth is seen as an enticing, forbidden fruit, a badge of rebellion against authority, and a symbol of adulthood (Engs, Forbidden Fruit ). Much like the little child who wants everything they can t have, making youths wait so long to drink legally, and commit the illusory final rite of passage to adulthood, only makes the conduct more appealing and more likely to be indulged in. According to a survey released by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, one of the leading reasons given by high school seniors for drinking [was] to see what it s like (Brody, Personal Health Coping With Cold, Hard Facts on Teen-Age Drinking ). Forcing young adults who are curious about alcohol to resort to subversive activities increase[s] abusive drinking behavior due to underground drinking outside of adult supervision in student rooms and apartments (Engs, Forbidden Fruit ). This is obviously not conducive to the responsible drinking habits that the opponents of a younger drinking age seek to implement. The tendency for humans to want to engage in the prohibited, is a story from time immemorial elucidated from Eve in the Garden of Eden to Pandora Box s; people will always be tempted by curiosity.

Refutation 1: Changing The Drinking Age Has Not Changed Irresponsible Behavior Associated With Drinking

The goals of most advocates promoting a later drinking age, such as MADD, SADD, and the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, are to curb the negative secondary effects associated with the consumption of alcohol. However, the consumption of alcohol 1) is not necessarily causally related to the aforementioned negative secondary effects, and 2) nor is there conclusive evidence that the change in the national drinking age to 21 in all states has curbed the consumption of alcohol at all, or reduced the negative secondary effects associated with drinking.

Alcohol is involved in 95 percent of violent and property crimes on campuses, including date rape, and 40 percent of students academic problems are alcohol-related (Brody, Personal Health: Coping With Cold, Hard Facts on Teen-Age Drinking ). Facially, these facts and statistics seem irreproachable, but a little knowledge about facts and statistics shows us otherwise. At times, actions and conduct may be correlated, but that does not mean that they are causal. It is commonly held that alcohol is a dangerous gateway drug that seduces users to begin using illegal drugs. The supposed `proof provided is that most people who are involved with illicit drugs drank alcohol initially. Of course, most illicit drug users also drank milk, ate candy bars, and drank cola previously (Hanson, In My Opinion Prohibitionist Approach Toward Alcohol ). Just as Hanson shows, the fact that alcohol is involved in many forms of irresponsible behavior does not undeniably mean that it is the cause of that behavior.

Regardless of the alleged link between alcohol consumption and irresponsible behavior, there is no conclusive evidence that the switch over to a national drinking age of 21 has had any regulatory effect on the consumption of alcohol by minors. The opposition may look to the fact that the Federal safety administration pointed out that the number of alcohol-related fatalities fell 24 percent in the decade up to 1995, from 22,720 to 17,274 in support of their claim that the higher drinking age has been effective in curbing the negative secondary effects (Wald, Message Isn t Reaching Hard-Drinking Drivers ). Yet, it could be equally convincing to argue that the decrease in drinking and driving problems are the result of may factors and not just the rise in purchase age These include: education concerning drunk driving, designated driver programs, increased seat belt and air bag usage, safer automobiles, lower speed limits, free taxi services from drinking establishments, etc. (Engs, Forbidden Fruit ). Furthermore, in complete contradiction with the claim that a higher drinking age decreases the number of alcohol related accidents and fatalities a study of all 50 states and the District of Columbia found `a positive relationship between the purchase age and single-vehicle fatalities. Thus, single-vehicle fatalities were found to be more frequent in those states with high purchase ages (emphasis added, Hanson, In My Opinion The Legal Drinking Age Science vs. Ideology ).

Refutation 2: Changing The Drinking Age Does Not Affect The Root Of The Problem, Attitude

The primary problem with the advocacy of a higher drinking age is that it doesn t address the real problem. We need to recognize that it is not alcohol itself but rather the misuse of alcohol that is the problem (Hanson, In My Opinion Prohibitionist Approach Toward Alcohol ). Abusive drinking is, without question, a dire problem. But we will never make real progress against that problem until we take a hard look at the approach modeled by those cultures that have established a `truce with alcoholfrom Italians to Greeks, to Jews to many others (Hanson, In My Opinion It s Better to Teach Safe Use of Alcohol ). In these cultures beliefs about the substance of alcohol, the act of drinking, [and] education about drinking are looked upon very differently than in the U.S. (Hanson, In My Opinion It s Better to Teach Safe Use of Alcohol ). Their success in teaching responsible drinking stems from the fact that alcohol is neither seen as a poison or a magic potent, there is little or no social pressure to drink, irresponsible behavior is never tolerated, young people learn at home from their parents and from other adults how to handle alcohol in a responsible manner, and there is societal consensus on what constitutes responsible drinking (Engs, Forbidden Fruit ). The attitude in the U.S. is very different from this nonchalant stance. Instead of learn[ing] from this model [we] instead depict alcohol as a `dirty drug, something to be shunned and feard (Hanson, In My Opinion It s Better to Teach Safe Use of Alcohol ). Whereas, the act of drinking alcoholic beverages is downplayed by other societies, our government chooses to draw attention to it, calling it a drug. Technically, this assertion is correct. Any substancesalt, vitamins, water, food, etc.that alters the functioning of the body is a drug. But the word `drug has negative connotations and the attempt is clearly to stigmatize a legal product that is used pleasurably in moderation by most American[s] (Hanson, In My Opinion Prohibitionist Approach Toward Alcohol ).

One major problem with this approach is that in stigmatizing alcohol as a `drug, however, neo-prohibitionists may be inadvertently trivializing the use of illegal drugs and thereby encourage their use (Hanson, In My Opinion Prohibitionist Approach Toward Alcohol ). In one survey conducted at East Carolina University, students indicated that 22% intended to use other drugs after the drinking age was raised to 21; anecdotal statements by students indicated the belief of some that it `might be easier to hide a little pot in [their] room than a six pack of beer (Hanson, In My Opinion The Legal Drinking Age Science vs. Ideology ).

It is uncontested that irresponsible drinking is a problem in our society. Nearly 14 million adult Americans have alcohol-abuse problems [and] alcohol abuse figures in half of American homicides and about a third of suicides (Knapp, The Glass Half Empty ). However, the keeping the drinking age at 21 is not going to solve that problem. The idea that individuals should completely abstain from consuming alcoholic beverages until they reach their 21st birthdays is about as logical as not allowing youths to ever get behind the wheel, until they ve acquired their licenses. The key to changing irresponsible drinking is not older drinkers but smarter drinkers. Lowering the drinking age to 18, empowers youths, removes the allure, and facilitates education about responsible drinking. Drinking in moderation is neither undesirable nor dangerous but is actually associated with better health and greater longevity than is either abstention or heavy drinking (Hanson, In My Opinion The Legal Drinking Age Science vs. Ideology ).

We seem to be a nation petrified by the thought that someone somewhere may be drinking too much and running amok (Hanson, In My Opinion It s Better to Teach Safe Use of Alcohol ). Instead of educating our youth at an early age, we choose to run from the problem, blaming the substance instead of our shameful shirking of the responsibility to inform and educate. The statute making drinking unlawful until the age of 21 is arbitrary and inherently counterproductive. If we seek to rectify the negative secondary effects associated with alcohol consumption we need to promote responsibility in our youth, not abstinence.


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