Why is the Drinking Age 21?

It’s safe to say that much of the youth discover ways to avoid the mandatory drinking age. Whether it be asking their older friends – or even, on occasions, their parents – or by stealing a bottle from the grocery store, young people have been attracted to inebriation for centuries now. And though their ignorance towards the drinking age holds many consequences, it cannot be forgotten that for throughout most of human history, there were no limits on an age for alcohol consumption.

Even today, many countries – such as Canada and England – only restrict drinking until the age of 18. So, why is it 21 in America? People will defend that if a person is able to fight for their country, then they should be justified to sitting at a bar and having a glass of beer. A statement as such has held much debate as to whether 21 is the proper age or not. However, the lawmaker’s intentions in the drinking age have plenty of reasonable considerations that are often disregarded.

It was on July 17th, 1984 when Ronald Reagan signed into law the National Minimum Drinking Age Act. The overall idea was the government was going to withhold highway funding from any state who didn’t raise their drinking age to 21. Being that no state wanted such a restriction, they all complied. Since then, for better or worse, the laws have remained the same.

However, recent scientific research is proclaiming that this law is having its positive and negative effects on the youth.

An Effort for the Sake of Better Health

The National Minimum Drinking Age Act did have its reasonings. The biggest being that most of the drunk driving incidents at-the-time were caused by teenagers between the ages of 16 and 20. With the ban being placed on them to legally purchase, there was a significant drop in the number of incidents happening across the country.

In 1982, out of all drunk driving incidents, 62% ended up in fatal casualty. By the year of 1995, that number dropped to 31%. Therefore, the law most certainly had some effect on the amount of people dying due to drinking and driving.

However, there was also a flip side to the coin. Being that the youth often finds enjoyment in taking risks, there seemed to be a new sort of risk in drinking before the age of 21. With the law provoking consequence and parents abidingly teaching their children not to drink, there became much more intrigue in the concept of drinking.

Just as with illegal drug use, there’s a sense of rebellion much of the youth is attracted to. The only difference being that drinking would eventually become legal for them. Therefore, they’ll eventually not have to feel as though anything is at risk.

Only a few years after the law was passed, a survey taken showed that a remarkable amount of college students were now drinking in comparison to legal drinkers. The reasoning behind this has to do with the common belief in the youth attempting to be rebellious.

So, outside of drunk driving, where does the concern truly lie in an eighteen-year-old drinking alcohol? There are some arguments brought up by doctors who’ve studied the topic. However, their claims can be rather inconclusive.

The Maturing Individual

In concerns with rehabilitation, it’s always important we don’t lead people into an addiction at such a young age. There are some thoughts that an immature mind is more likely to fall into a dependence as they’re unaware of the dangers in acts such as binge drinking. This is completely true, yet, varies from individual to individual.

Depending on their life experiences, their environment, and their genetics, addiction isn’t always a guarantee. A recent study shows that 7 out of 10 college students take part in consuming alcohol on, at least, a monthly basis. With this knowledge, it’s safe to say that not every single one of them is developing an addiction.

However, it could be questioned whether or not this is affecting their maturing brains. When talking about binge drinking, there are very damaging influences over a young person’s brain. A destruction has been known to leave people with permanent memory loss and other cognitive deficits.

To understand this, we must understand how the brain develops during the teenage years. There are a few changes going on throughout – generally speaking – the ages of twelve and twenty.

  1. The brain is learning to transmit information at quicker rates for the sake of handling more intricate thoughts.
  2. This is caused by neurons gaining size and power.
  3. The brain also gets rid of synapses.

Similar to that of an infant just discovering the world, a teenage brain is learning to process the realities of a more adult world. One of which is going to require responsibilities and an effort towards strategic goal planning.

Mixing this with alcohol is a dangerous concoction that could have a devastating impact. Therefore, it gives us a more proper reasoning as to why the legal drinking age is 21. If everyone were to follow this rule, it would give everyone enough time for their brains to develop into maturity.

To further this point, the part of the brain responsible for socializing and emotions – the limbic system – develops within these teen years. Being that alcohol is, generally, a social substance that can make you feel a certain way, those drinking at a young age are greatly affecting this developing element. To top it off, the areas of the brain responsible for judgment aren’t completely shaped until a person’s late 20’s. Leaving the legal age limit unreliable for the effects alcohol can have in this regard.


It’s important to look out for those around you. Whether you’re a parent or a member of the youth, problem drinking is proven to greatly affect that of the developing mind. Therefore, you’ll want to make sure any person that may be falling into these behaviors is aware of the potential consequence.

If addiction has already begun, there are solutions. Especially with the youth who still have their chance to change the inevitability of their future.

If you or anyone you love is struggling with a drinking habit and/or is looking for more information as to why the age limit for alcohol consumption is 21, please, give us a call at 602 535 6468 or email us at info@stonewallinstitute.com.