Legal Drinking Ages in United States

Legal drinking ages vary around the world. In the United States, the national legal drinking age of 21 was set by federal law in 1984. Before then, deciding at what age drinking should be legal was up to each individual state. The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 penalized states that did not comply with the doctrine by reducing the federal highway funding they received. All states are now in compliance with the mandates of the act.

The law prohibits the purchase and public possession of alcoholic beverages by persons under 21 years of age. The term “public possessions” is an important clause and does not apply to the possession of alcohol by minors for established religious purposes (if accompanied by an adult over 21 years of age), medical purposes as prescribed by a physician, or in private clubs or establishments.

Trying to identify a drinking age that would significantly reduce alcohol abuse is a difficult task that most likely will never be resolved. To even consider an appropriate legal drinking age, issues of freedom, responsibility, family, parental rights, religion, and politics must be taken into account.

Many activists and anthropologists claim that the United States’ drinking age is too high. In comparison with many other countries, the legal drinking age of 21 is one of the highest in the world.

The most common argument for lowering the drinking age is that persons under the age of 21 who are interested in drinking alcohol do so anyway with relative ease. Proponents of decreasing the legal drinking age often claim that such an advanced age makes drinking alcohol seem more desirable to young people who are eager to indulge in what is restricted to them. In turn, their use of alcohol in irresponsible ways, such as binge drinking and drunk driving, increases. To support their argument, these individuals claim that alcohol abuse is not as prevalent in countries where drinking is not treated as taboo and is legal at an earlier age.

Those who support the current legal drinking age, like members of the activist organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), claim that since the drinking age was raised to 21, thousands of young lives have been saved.