What is the optimal drinking age?


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Does age really matter when it comes to the consumption of alcohol, and if so why does the required drinking age vary so greatly from country to country? This is a question that came to mind after my trip to Ireland last summer where I was able to legally purchase and consume alcohol whenever I pleased.

The drinking age in most European countries  is 18 years of age, however the drinking age in the United States is 21 years of age, so why is this and are the three years that separate the two significant? According to the National Library of Medicine "setting the minimum legal drinking age at 21 clearly reduces alcohol and its major harms." Drinking age is a number set in order to attempt to reduce the number of alcohol related harms, so when deciding on an age it is important to pick it based upon whether or not the reduction in alcohol-related harms justifies the reduction in consumer surplus. For instance it wouldn't make much sense to change the drinking age from 21 years of age to 25 years of age in the US, because adults in this age group experience a significantly less amount of alcohol-related harms than those form the 18-21 age group. In this situation, the value of raising the age would not be greater than the value of the associated costs. This is opposed to changing the drinking age down from 21 to 18 where alcohol-related harms are much more frequent, therefore the value that is obtained from drinking is not as valuable as the consumers safety. Overall this study found that setting the minimum legal drinking  age at 21 opposed to 18 clearly reduces alcohol-related harms, which is ultimately the main reason we have a required drinking age; safety.

An opposing study in The Daily Wildcat claims that it's about time that we lower the drinking age from 21 to 18, under the basis that people who are under 21 drink less often than people who are older than 21, however when people that are under 21 drink, they often drink more than someone older than 21 would in a single sitting, which leads to binge drinking, the reason why alcohol related harms occur in the first place. The author of this article believes that if we lowered the drinking age to 18 then we would almost eliminate the problem of binge drinking, because the 18 year olds would follow the trends of the 21 year olds and not drink as much in a single sitting. I believe this to be an entirely bogus theory with many flaws, even though the article does claim that "More than 70 percent of teens drink by the time they reach 18, and 80 percent of college students drink, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism". Personally I couldn't see lowering the drinking age just because of a trend that proves that people of age are less likely to binge drink than those underage. I believe that this issue would just create a bigger problem for us and in no way remove the problem of binge drinking, it would just present it to a younger crowed. I believe that if we lowered the drinking age to 18 then 15 and 16 year olds would first and foremost be more inclined to drink, and would then begin to trade places with the 18 year olds in this paradox, causing them to binge drink. Personally I would rather have an 18-year-old binge drinking than the 15 or 16 year old whose body is much less matured and therefore not as capable of digesting alcohol properly.

Overall I believe that 21 is the optimal drinking age as far as our country is concerned; a place where people pride themselves on there drinking ability rather than their intelligence quotient. As far as I see it I, if the drinking age were lowered I do not believe that the amount of alcohol related harms would be reduced, in fact I feel as though they would occur much more frequently. The only reason why I could see making a change in the legal drinking age would be for the sole purpose of reducing these harms, which has been proven back in the 1970's and 80's when some states had a required drinking age of only 18,  to only increase when the drinking age is lowered. With that being said I do not believe that reducing the drinking age is the answer, and 21 seems to be the happy medium age, where of course there are still alcohol-related harms, but much less than there would be if the age was lowered. 

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