Lowering The Drinking Age: Alcohol Abuse In Adolescents

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Would lowering the drinking age increase or decrease alcohol abuse disorders in adolescents, despite America’s drinking culture in college? College is a huge time for drinking and partying. The vision of college is one that portrays sports, drinking, and going out all night. The issue is that when students hit the legal age , they are juniors in college, giving most students two full years being underage. But this vision is still there. So with this, underage drinking exists and is apart of the culture of college. In this article, it is my interest to understand underage drinking in college due to the culture and if that affects alcohol abuse disorders in adolescent students. The research question I am asking is, Would lowering the drinking age increase or decrease alcohol abuse disorders in adolescents, despite America’s drinking culture in college?

The First Drink: Risks of Alcohol Abuse in Adolescence

When talking about alcohol abuse in adolescents, the risk factors that affect the onset of these conditions need to be mentioned. It has been suggested the earlier a person has their first drink, the greater the risk of alcohol dependence (DeWit, Adlaf, Offord & Ogborne, 2000). DeWit and colleagues (2000) argued that a high-risk profile of lifetime dependence occurs in people who had their first drink at 11. So the length of consumption matters to the dependence. Adolescents that were drinking throughout childhood can exacerbate the stressors by drinking, in the end causing alcohol dependence disorder later in life. An interesting factor was drinking at 19 or order, which is below the legal drinking age, does not have a lot of risk factors attached to it. The alcohol dependence showed to be a lot lower within that group. Another interesting factor is that 18 was once the drinking in America, leading to the question, why was that changed?

The Legal Drinking Age in America

The original reason for the drinking age being higher now was the number of car accidents. During the Vietnam war, the legal age to drink was pushed down to 18, the premise being if you are old enough to drink, you are old enough to die for the country. Soon after that traffic collisions and fatalities were increasing in states that had lower drinking ages (Miron & Tetelbaum, 2009). This obviously created an issue among states because alcohol consumption was resulting in injuries, risky behaviors and sometimes death, among young adults (Miron & Tetelbaum, 2009). Thus the concern on the federal level created the MLDA21 act that wanted states to move up the age limit on drinking. States had to be forced to abide by this new ruling by being threatened to lose funding on highways. Finally, all states had their age limit moved up to 21 but there is still a concern for drunk driving and teen car accidents. The act of moving the age up did help but now created a culture of hiding and illegal drinking, potentially creating more problems amongst young adolescents.

American Drinking Culture

Sports and beer have been a staple for most college students’ party experiences. The red solo cup and students dancing in a cramp, low-lit place is a common sight for most freshmen entering into college. Drinking and sports on a college campus have become a masculine activity, it is the baseline of all males at a campus. Wenner (2009) argues, that beer advertising portrays a male “dreamworld” of women being objectified or absent, creating a place for all men to have power. It creates this atmosphere where you should be drinking and that “cool” guys are the ones getting girls and going out drinking. This can have adverse effects on young students that want to embrace this masculine attitude and get drunk.


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Whether or not, the legal drinking age changes or stays the same, issues in drinking are still prevalent. College culture can be toxic and create masculinity were students feel like they need to drink to be seen “cool”. Lowering the alcohol limit could cause an increase in car accidents because of more people having access to alcohol. The age limit staying the same can keep the same accidents going and create the hiding/lying culture in underage students, causing the same issues. It is hard to gauge and maybe creating an early-drinking culture like other countries is not the right one for America because we still have unresolved issues with where we are now.


DeWit, D. J., Adlaf, E. M., Offord, D. R., & Ogborne, A. C. (2000). Age at first alcohol use: a risk factor for the development of alcohol disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry, 157(5), 745-750.

Miron, J. A., & Tetelbaum, E. (2009). Does the minimum legal drinking age save lives?. Economic inquiry, 47(2), 317-336.

Wenner, L. A. (2009). Sport, beer, and gender: Promotional culture and contemporary social life (Vol. 17). Peter Lang.   

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