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Lowering the Drinking Age to 18 Will Not Solve Drinking Associated Issues



Alcohol-Related Problems Background

The trends in alcohol consumption have risen a lot of public health concerns, especially among the young population. As a result, some groups have come up to voice for need in the implementation of changes to manage this situation. In 2009, chancellors and presidents of 135 schools signed the Amethyst Initiative that sought debate attention over the minimum drinking age. The drinking trend has shown a significant drop among adults aged 18-20 in the past decade. An increase in drinking among people at the age of 21-24 has been noted. The general trend in drinking shows a decrease since the drinking age was increased. Alcohol abuse-related problems depicted a constant drop between 1980 and 1997. However, the number of alcohol-related problems has been changing since 1997 with the intermittent up and downward surges (Henry and Toben, 2010, p.1).

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The period between 1900 and 1960s was marked by industrialization. At that time alcohol consumption was governed by the cultural norms. Thus, alcohol abuse was controlled by strict community measures. However, alcohol was not easily available. Only adults who had money could purchase drinks. Alcohol-related problems were also rare since traffic issues had not been so critical. Most countries legalized drinking only to adults above 21 years. Public health issues related to alcohol were rare. However, the trend shifted since the 1960s when the Vietnam War provoked social movement against violation of the human right and stated demand for changes in society. The quest for a review on voting age also brought with it the question of alcohol consumption, especially, among the soldiers who were not yet above 21. An argument brought forward as Carla stated, “If a boy is old enough to fight and die for his country, why isn’t he old enough to vote?” Such arguments altered the whole American society and perception towards alcohol abuse (Carla, 2009, p.1).

The Uniform Drinking Age Act

In 1980, a drunk driver hit a 13-year-old Cari Lightner and escaped. Candace Lightner the mother of the child started a campaign against driving under the influence of alcohol. This launched a strong campaign Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). The movement grew in strength and capacity leading to taking measures by the American government. President Carter commissioned a study on alcohol abuse. In 1984, the Uniform Drinking Age Act was passed. The law established age 21 as the minimum drinking age. Recently, several debates have been raised questioning this law. Critics, on the other hand, believe that the law has only created more problems, especially, among the underage drinkers (Henry and Toben, 2010, p.1).

Since the underage teenagers still consume alcohol, they normally end up in dangerous situations including fights and risky alcohol consumption competitions. Statistics show that 100,000 incidences of sexual assaults have been reported. Records also show that there are recorded 700,000 fights annually. About 1100 people die in alcohol-related traffic accidents annually. CAS statistics shows that 2,000,000 United State student gets behind the wheel after alcohol consumption while 3,000,000 were in the car with drivers under alcohol influence. The losses associated with drinking are estimated at $53 billion. This issue has resulted in the raging debates over the drinking age (Carla, 2009, p.1).

The presidents and the chancellors based their argument on the significant drop in alcohol consumption and its related problems following the increase of minimum drinking age in 1984. The group believes that the reduction in fatalities among the people has no relationship with the 1984 increment of minimum age. As a counter-argument, the group attributes the shifts of the alcohol-associated trends controlling to government and public initiative groups. Consequently, the group argues that the 1984 minimum drinking age increase resulted in more irresponsible drinking behaviors as most students take to undercover drinking habits, which are more dangerous in comparison to open club drinking. Most students at the age of 18-20 take drinking to unsafe private parties where they become engaged in more dubious behaviors. Europe is one of the places where the implementation of a lowered drinking age has successfully managed to curb alcohol-related problems among the youth (CBS, 2010, p.1).

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Debates for Lowering the Drinking Age Limit from 21 to 18 in the USA

The several debates across the United States have been highlighted by media. John McCardell, a former president of Middlebury College in Vermont made spirited support for lowering the drinking age limit from 21 to 18. In an interview with CBS, McCardell strongly defended the idea that the age of 21 has negatively impacted the drinking habit of youngsters at the age of 18-20. He considered the law simply as a failure that has created many hidden alcohol consumption problems. Instead of drinking in public places where the kids are under adults watch, they have to hide behind the locked doors, in fraternity houses and basements. He says, "It hasn't reduced or eliminated drinking. It has simply driven it underground, behind closed doors, into the riskiest and least manageable of settings" (CBS, 2010, p.1).

A police Chief Mark Beckner supported McCardell and stated that the law has simply driven underage drinkers in shadows. The police said, "We're not in a situation where we can stop it. The best we can do is to try to contain it" (CBS, 2010, P.1). The police resent that the law enforcement mechanism has no capacity to manage the current situation. They have tried locking underage drinkers from their hideouts and bars, but they only burrow themselves deeper and deeper beyond police reach. He believes that lowering the age will not only help the underage drinkers but also the existing laws will be implemented.

Alcohol Abuse by College Students

To support his point, Beckner uses an example of a student from the University of Colorado, Gordie. He reflects a 2004 incident where an 18-year-old student perished due to alcohol abuse. The students were competing in a drinking spree, which poisoned Gordie. However, his companions left him to die because of the fear to be prosecuted since Gordie was underage and wasn’t allowed to drink by law. It is believed that lowering the drinking age will reduce problems affecting the underage drinkers (Carla, 2009, p.1).

While there is a strong attack against the law passed in 1984, the major blow to these arguments is the lack of statistical evidence. Statistics taken after the 21 years’ law was passed, shows a great reduction in fatalities. MADD executive director says that reducing the age will result in a major disaster than the current problems. He applies statistical information generated before and after the drinking age increase.

Traffic has benefitted the most from the restriction of alcohol consumption. The growth in fatalities of people between 21 and 24 is an indicator of what might result from reducing drinking to 18. Americans should not neglect the impact the increased drinking age has contributed to a reduction of road deaths. It is imperative that the law should be legalized to increase road carnage at the expense of other alcohol-related issues. Lowering age will open alcohol channel to the young underage drinkers. When questioned that "So what you're saying is 18 year-olds today get 21 year-olds to go get them liquor. You're saying 15 year-olds would get the 18 year-olds to do that?" (CBS, 2010, p.1).

Hurley replies “Yeah, that is what we're saying” (CBS, 2010, p.1) From his perception, it is evident that currently 21 and 24-year-old adult drinks with 18-year-old teenagers. Then lowering the age will encourage 16-year-olds to drink. He also takes the aspect of media; unlike in the past, today media apply a lot of advertisements, which are harmful to students. Statistics also show that most teenagers by 13 have consumed alcohol. This shows that the reduction of age will only lead to more rampant alcohol abuse (CBS, 2010, p.1).

Alcohol Is Not the Sole Mechanism of Controlling the Youth

The people fighting the minimum drinking age also imply that alcohol is the sole mechanism of controlling the youth. There are numerous other prohibitions that are applied to control heavy drinking and alcohol-related issues. In many states, the government does not allow driving under the influence of alcohol, which controls drinking behavior. Most policemen are also trained to curb sales of alcohol to minors and drinking to intoxicating levels. Traffic penalties are among the most effective activities applied to curb drinking habits. It is evident that states that have strict supportive measures against driving under the influence of alcohol have shown low underage drinking statistics. In all states where the minimum age of 21 has been established, statistic shows that underage drinking depends on the number of legal drinkers. Thus, if the number of drinkers is high, the number of underage drinkers is high as well. (Henry and Toben, 2010, p.1).

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The Amethyst Initiative

It is a fallacy for the police to believe that the drinking problem cannot be managed as Mark Beckner said, "We're not in a situation where we can stop it. The best we can do is try to contain it." This simply implies that police training has not been mastered to curb drinking problems. Most police are after the underage drinkers while they should focus on preventative measures. The police should target the business community and advertisers. Amethyst Initiative should focus on behavioral change rather than raising controversial debates. In essence, the Amethyst Initiative has no basis for arguments. They lack supporting statistics and their argument has failed to focus on the broader aspect of the problem. Nothing will be achieved by lowering the drinking age (Henry and Toben, 2010, p.1).

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