Why 21?

Have you ever wondered why the drinking age was raised to, and has remained, 21? We were curious too, and we found a few reasons cited by MLDA 21 supporters. Supporters’ reasons for upholding the current age seemed exaggerated, so we did some research of our own and found that the 21 year old drinking age does not achieve the “primary reasons cited by supporters” stated below.

The primary reasons for upholding MLDA 21, cited by supporters of the law:

  • It saves lives by preventing alcohol-related traffic fatalities among 18-20 year-olds and the rest of the population.
  • Since the developing adolescent brain is affected differently by alcohol than the adult brain, the 21 year-old drinking age protects adolescents and young adults from its potentially negative consequences.
  • It prevents adolescents from gaining access to alcohol. Some research has found that the earlier one starts to drink, the more likely he or she will experience alcohol dependence and related problems later in life.

Seem bold? We thought so too! Our research has shown that the arguments above are overstated:

  • There is no demonstrable cause and effect relationship between the 21 year-old drinking age and the decline in alcohol-related fatalities. While its proponents may claim that the 21 year-old drinking age is solely responsible, we found that many factors–increased seat belt use, development of airbag and anti-lock brake technologies, advent of the “designated driver,” and stigmatization of drunk driving to name just a few–had the effect of making our roads and vehicles safer over the past two and a half decades.
  • The claims of neurological research on alcohol and the adolescent brain have, in many cases, been overstated. Statements like MADD’s “teenagers who drink too much may lose as much as 10 percent of their brainpower” often exaggerate the findings of research findings based on data gathered from rat populations, leading to an oversimplified and alarmist approach to very complicated neurological research. Stay tuned here for more information on alcohol and the brain…
  • The context in which one first consumes alcohol is as, if not more, important as the age of initiation. Age is just a number. Scientific and anthropological data from around the world have shown that the context in which alcohol is first consumed cultural attitudes towards drinking are much more important in determining whether or not an individual will have alcohol-related problems later in life.

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