Alcohol has been one of the most controversial issues in American society throughout our history. In colonial times its consumption was a necessity, providing a safe alternative to contaminated water. Alcohol was generally accepted throughout society until the early 20th century, when Prohibition was ratified in 1919. The legislation was a colossal failure, however, and was repealed in 1933.
The legal drinking age from 1933 to 1984 was 18, an age generally regarded in our society as significant: one can be drafted into or enlist in the military, one can vote, and in most states, one has already been driving for two years. Life was good.
In 1984, however, the drinking age was raised to 21 and has stood there ever since. This legislation has long been disputed, and the debate has recently gained momentum - the consideration of lowering the drinking age to 18 is again present.
There are many sterling arguments in favor of a lower drinking age. One revolves around military service: why can 18-year-olds be unwillingly drafted or willingly enlist in the military, allowed and even encouraged to serve and die for their country, but not allowed to touch a beer?
Another argument centers around voting: 18-year-olds are trusted to be involved in the decision making of the entire nation; their votes are given the same consideration as any other. Why are they not viewed as responsible enough to be involved in making their own decisions regarding the consumption of alcohol?
A third, but by no means final, argument recognizes that teens, especially undergraduates, drink regardless of the law, so they might as well do so legally. The ultimate outcome of Prohibition upholds this reasoning: people drank anyway, thus it became wasteful and foolish to continue the prosecution of an ineffective law.
Opponents of the proposition of a lowered drinking age cite fear of higher rates of auto accidents, alcohol poisoning, binge drinking and teen pregnancy. Unfortunately, Europe provides a foil for all of these concerns.
In Europe, drinking ages are almost universally 18 - those which don't specify 18 as the minimum age don't, in fact, have legislation on the issue - and through careful research it has been found that the incidence rates of automobile accidents, alcohol poisoning, binge drinking and teen pregnancy are actually, per capita, significantly lower than those in America. While no definitive reason has been given, it can logically be postulated that this is because of widespread alcohol tolerance. In a society where it isn't taboo or illegal to drink at a younger age, there is less incentive to sneak around, drink quickly and in quantity, and "make the best use of the buzz," so to speak.
There are only two equitable ways, therefore, to rectify the situation. The first is less than responsible: perhaps the law ought to be more leniently enforced. The problems of this idea are manifold and, I hope, obvious, which leaves only a single valid option: the drinking age in America should be lowered to its previous level.