Can We Lower the Legal Drinking Age?

Underaged drinking is a common occurrence among young adults especially those who are currently enrolled in college. On college campuses there is often a social culture involving drinking. This culture is especially prevalent within the Greek system as students compete for membership into these organizations. Alcohol is a significant factor in their pledging and initiation processes. In Janet Reitman’s article, “Confessions of an Ivy League Frat Boy: Inside Dartmouth’s Hazing Abuses. She describes the influence of Greek Life on underage drinking. Reitman interviews a former Sigma Alpha Epsilon member Andrew Lohse from the chapter at Dartmouth University. This article gives first-hand accounts of the culture of underage drinking within Greek Life on college campuses. Reitman is quoted “Dartmouth frat boys pride themselves on being able to drink six cups of beer in less than 30 seconds – it’s called a “quick six”. The experiences that he has endured have formally publicized how influential and prevalent underage drinking is on college campuses. Alcohol has been integrated into the culture as it is romanticized through underage college students. Students tend to feel the societal pressures to drink to fit in and conform to this unrealistic idea of what college is.

Alcohol has been integrated into the culture as it is romanticized through underage college students. Students tend to feel the societal pressures to drink to fit in and conform to this unrealistic idea of what college is.


According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, thirty-three percent of teens have consumed at least one alcoholic beverage by the age of fifteen and by age eighteen that statistic increases to sixty percent. Over fifty percent of teens have had one drink at the least by the time they reach legal adulthood, but though at this age they are recognized as adults the consumption of alcohol is still illegal until age twenty-one. This regulation does not stop most students from drinking anyway. The inefficiency of this law calls into question if it is even necessary to legally prevent these people from drinking if they will just drink regardless. This poses the question: Can we lower the drinking age?

The drinking age in its current form was established in 1986 to try to reduce the amount of alcohol related automobile accidents of young adults between the ages of eighteen to twenty-one. Since this alteration was made studies have shown the number of automobile accidents have decreased in this age range. Therefore, it appears the increase in the legal age limit to consume alcohol has been efficient in its goal to reduce traffic crash casualties. However,  other research has shown that the minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) may not completely be responsible for the decline in alcohol-related traffic fatalities, instead the law merely delays the age of when these accidents occur.  

Even if the laws in place prevent alcohol related automobile fatalities, one must also account for the consequences that the law causes hindering students’ success. Since there is such a large population of teens that still drink illegally they are susceptible to arrest, expulsion from school, and additional repercussions that could permanently damage their record. For example, an incident of underage drinking occurred at Miami University in Ohio depicting the strong influence and popularity of alcohol consumption in college only to result in grave consequences in exchange for a night out. Earlier this year a freshman at Miami University died as a result of underage drinking, while another twenty-one students were admitted to the hospital for alcohol poisoning of which 19 of them were underage. Though it is a personal choice to drink most students turn a blind eye to the ramifications that could result from their actions. Therefore, since no likely change in behavior will occur between students and their drinking habits, alterations in the legal age limit could be made in order to reduce the consequences alcohol brings.

On top of academic consequences, we must also consider the health consequences to the drinking age. One of the strongest arguments in favor of lowering the drinking age is that having the drinking age at twenty-one encourages detrimental drinking. Critics of the drinking age argue that the reason that we see such high rates of binge drinking on college campuses is because they are not allowed to have alcohol which makes drinking a mysterious and exciting prospect. Therefore, by lowering the drinking age it eliminates the excitement of alcohol consumption. Underage drinking in college is inevitable so normalizing it would prevent detrimental consequences. Instead of increasing the allure of underage drinking as it is “forbidden,” inputting regulations can further normalize college drinking. Once this is “more normal” drinking loses its “thrill” as it is no longer banned, but promoted to further responsible consumption. Thus, alcohol can be enjoyed in social gatherings as opposed to abusing it.

All in all, small policy changes could achieve the basic goals of the current drinking age and could allow for the age to be safely dropped to eighteen. The easiest of these is to increase the excise tax on alcohol, which has been shown to be to low, as an increased tax decreases risky drinking behavior such as drinking and driving. In addition to this tax another option is the incorporation of responsible drinking can be added to the education that college students receive. By adding programs to teach students safe ways to drink this can help to reduce the abuse of it and allow for the minimum legal age limit to potentially be lowered.

Nicholas Cale: How We Can Afford to Lower the Drinking Age 

Josephine Farrell: Drinking Age Minimum Should Continue to Be 21

Liz O’Brien: The Legalization of Alcohol on College Campuses

Additional Resources: Drinking Age