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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

HARTE: Lower drinking age proposals contain various risks


Several states, including Wisconsin, Louisiana and New Hampshire have considered proposals to lower the drinking age this past year. These proposals are dangerous because of their potential to increase destructive and harmful behaviors among young adults.

The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 outlawed the purchase of alcohol by anyone under the age of 21. Before the law’s passing, many states had minimum drinking ages of 18 or 19. Under the law, any state that institutes a lower drinking age will have their federal highway funds reduced significantly. For example, the state of Louisiana risked losing 10 percent of their federal highway funds after lowering their drinking age to 18 in 1996.

College-age people would be the primary group affected by a change to the minimum drinking age. Currently, most college students must wait until their junior or senior years to legally purchase alcohol. However, the minimum drinking age law does not deter a large amount of underage people from consuming alcohol. According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 20 percent of Americans between the ages of 12 and 20 reported drinking alcohol in the past month.

College students are also at a uniquely high risk of developing unhealthy drinking habits. Slightly more than 30 percent of college students reported binge drinking in the previous two weeks, according to the 2016 Monitoring the Future Study. In the survey, binge drinking was defined as consuming five or more drinks in a row at least once in a two-week period.

A primary argument in favor of reducing the minimum legal drinking age is to prevent young people’s view of drinking alcohol as a rebellious activity. If they were able to consume alcohol at a younger age, such as 18, they could have their first legal drink while still living with their parents. This might limit the risk that students will binge drink in college, as alcohol will no longer have a forbidden fruit appeal.

However, new research from University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Jason Fletcher discredits the argument in favor of parental supervision over initial legal alcohol consumption. Surprisingly, Fletcher’s research found that young adults living with their parents are at a higher risk to participate in alcohol-related risky behavior than young people living away from home.

Fletcher’s research also expanded upon negative effects that lowering the legal drinking age may have. After turning 21, men are more likely to drive drunk, get in fights and engage in risky sexual behavior. Lowering the drinking age might increase the prevalence of these behaviors, as young men are likely even more prone to irresponsible actions at 18 or 19 years old.

Drunk driving is an especially dangerous activity for young people. Minimum age drinking laws have been effective at limiting its danger. Between 1975 – 2016, minimum drinking age laws saved more than 30,000 lives, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

A lower drinking age could also have negative health effects since adolescence is a key period for brain development. The hippocampus is a part of the brain that plays a major role in memory development. According to research from the University of California-San Diego, volumes of the hippocampus were significantly smaller in adolescents with alcohol use problems, potentially leading to memory problems.

One of the authors of the recent drinking age proposal in Wisconsin is Wisconsin State Assembly Representative Adam Jarchow. In an interview with WMTV, Jarchow said “I see no reason why we can send young men and women off to war but they can’t have a beer.” 

However, less than 0.5 percent of the US population were active duty military members in 2016, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. About 10 percent of active duty military members were between 17-19 years old. Lowering the drinking age so young military members can have a beer would be a drastic change to appeal to a small percentage of the population.

The current minimum drinking age saves lives and protects people from dangerous behavior. Instead of lowering the drinking age, lawmakers should work toward raising awareness of the negative health and safety effects that drinking has on young adults. 

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  • J

    Jackson AdamsDec 4, 2018 at 6:38 am

    In 2017 Wisconsin tried to lower its legal drinking age to 19 and the state failed. However, the three lawmakers trying to get this to pass had some good reason to back them up. The first reason is the most common argument used when trying to lower the drinking age. When people 19 they are able to be tried as an adult as well as vote for the leaders of our country. People of 19 years of age are able to enlist and fight for our country but are unable to drink. One of the most common apposing arguments is that even though these people are adults they are still young and irresponsible and at times make decisions that are not very smart. Those who oppose lowering the drinking age say this, yet they are willing to let these young at times irresponsible people have a say in who leads our country. The lawmakers specifically wanted to lower the minimum legal drinking age to 19 to ensure that alcohol could still not be bought by those in high school and easily be distributed to those even younger then 18. Representative Adam Jarchow said that “countless hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars” could be saved if the minimum legal drinking age was lowered to 19. His reasoning is that there is a lot of money and resources that are spent on enforcing the drinking age when in reality these are young adults that are capable of making responsible decisions. Jarchow also said that this could especially help on college campuses in the way that resources could be used more effectively. For example, Jarchow said “Those efforts could be used for other important issues such as drug abuse and sexual assaults,”. Jarchow raises some good points here and the state of Wisconsin was a state that was ready to lower their minimum legal drinking age. Unfortunately, if Wisconsin would have gone through with this, they would have lost 8% of their federal highway construction funding due to the minimum legal drinking act which is still in effect, which for the state would have been 53.7 million dollar reduction. I feel as though only the negative sides of the argument are brought to light in this article. While all the things that the article has stated are true, I thought I would bring some of the other facts into light.