What is so Special about the Age 21?

What is so Special about the Age 21?

In today's society there is a strict law that enables nobody under the age of twenty-one to be allowed to consume any beverage that contains any amount of alcohol. Twenty-one, that is three years after you are considered an adult and are allowed to make your own decisions. That is three years after you have the right to vote and four years after you can make the choice to die for your country or not. This creates more of a problem and even more confusion among adults eighteen to twenty.

Twenty-one, this is the current drinking age of any person that is a residing citizen of the United States of America. This was not always so. Let us take a brief look into the history of alcohol and the laws that surrounded it , before we examine why the government set the drinking age to twenty-one The origins of alcohol is not known, but it is theorized that it was discovered by accident about ten thousand years ago. This theory comes from the finds of stone age beer jugs that were found around the time of the Neolithic period. Then in ancient Egypt there was a god that went by the name of Osiris, who was the god of wine.(Hanson, 1995, Para 5) Different forms of alcohol can be dated back all the way to the beginning of recorded history as an important role of everyday life. Alcohol was consumed by every original colony of the United states and was said the be a gift from god.

The first drinking law in America came about in 1851. "The first state prohibition law, passed in Maine in 1851, prohibited the manufacture and sale of “spirituous or intoxicating liquors” not intended for medical or mechanical purposes, and thirteen of the thirty-one states had such laws by 1855." (Clark, 2002, Para 2) After that the alcohol laws just got worse in the United States. Starting in 1919, the government passed the eighteenth amendment of the constitution that strictly prohibited all of the production, transporting, importing, exporting, and the sale of any alcoholic beverage. Then in 1933 after being The Senator of Wisconsin, John Blaine, proposed a decree to Congress to add the Twenty-First Amendment. The Twenty First Amendment would terminate the Eighteenth Amendment.

After the abolishment of the eighteenth Amendment the Twenty-First Amendment gave all of the state freedom to decriminalize, control or forbid alcohol in any way they saw fit. In 1933, the sates did just that. The drinking ages now widely varied. Alabama continued to prohibit alcohol, while Colorado did not have a drinking age. Some of the states adopted a low drinking age, for instance Ohio had a drinking age of sixteen. While Sixteen state gave drinking ages that varied between eighteen and twenty. On the other hand thirty-two states possessed a drinking age of twenty-one. (Miron. Pg 7) The majority of theses drinking ages remained the same until the seventies. With direct result of the Vietnam War, an amazing thirty states lowered their drinking age from twenty-one to eighteen.

On the 17th of July 1984, the Federal Uniform Drinking Age Act was signed into law stating that all states shall adopt the legal drinking age of twenty within five years.(MADD, 2007, Para 6) The Federal Uniform Drinking Age Act also threatened that even though the states did not agree with this act they must abide by it. The punishment for the states that did not comply with this act where threatened to withhold their highway fund if they choose not to comply by October of 1986. (Miron, n.d, pg. 9) Some of the state did as they were told to do, while others sued to stop the execution of the act. The state of South Dakota decided to make a stand for their state and sued in the United States District Court in the famous 1987 South Dakota v. Dole. A decision was made on the 23rd of June 1987. "South Dakota, which permits persons 19 years old or older to purchase beer containing up to 3.2% alcohol, sued in Federal District Court for a declaratory judgment that 158 violates the constitutional limitations on congressional exercise of the spending power under Art. I, 8, cl. 1, of the Constitution and violates the Twenty-first Amendment. The District Court rejected the State's claims, and the Court of Appeals affirmed." (FindLaw, 2009, Para 1) After the district court named the act by President Ronald Regan to be Constitutional all states eventually adopted the national drinking age to be twenty-one, with Wyoming being the last in July of 1988.

The Reason why the United States had made a decision to raise the national drinking age to twenty-one is because they believe that young adults under the age of twenty-one were not mature enough to handle the effects of the alcohol. They were causing to many traffic fatalities. What was not factored into the equation was the change in times, the effect the Vietnam war had on the minds of young adults and the new found drug that were creeping into American society. After the national drinking age was changed to twenty-one more inconclusive test where done. "According to federal estimates, pushing a uniform minimum drinking age nationwide saved 21,887 lives through 2002. New research argues that it wasn't so: By studying state-by-state data, the authors found that most of the reduction in fatalities came from states that had raised the drinking age before the federal law went on the books; in states that raised the drinking age to comply with the federal pressure, there was little effect. Furthermore, fatalities in states that raised the age early dipped only briefly; in the other states, they either remained steady or increased after the age was changed. The authors conclude that the overall reduction in traffic deaths has had more to do with safer cars and better medical treatment for accident victims than with policies handed down from on high." (Griffiths, 2007, Para 1) So why does the government not take these factors into consideration. The invention of air-bags, anti-lock brakes, seat belts, and safety glass, in addition to major advances in medical technology made substantial effects on these statistics.

The United states is only one of five countries that hold a minimum drinking age of twenty-one. The others are; Cameroon, Indonesia, Fiji, and Micronesia. The rest of the countries adopt more of a liberal minimum drinking age. Belgium, China, Denmark, France, and Germany are just a few that hold a minimum drinking age that varies from sixteen to eighteen. Australia, The Bahamas, Brazil, Ireland and New Zealand are some countries that hold a minimum drinking age of only eighteen. So why is the United States one of five countries, out of one hundred and twenty-one that uphold a minimum drinking age of twenty-one? Places in Europe that have a liberal drinking age, of sixteen to eighteen, which are not even up held, do not have such a problem with drinking as they do in the United States. This is because Europeans learn responsible drinking at a young age. They self their alcohol next to the soda and crackers. (Hanson, 1997, Para 5) It is not hidden in a corner like something bad. Torben Krueger, a graduate student from Germany once said, "You're allowed to drink earlier in Europe so you get used to experiences with alcohol earlier, so when you're 18, you're more responsible about it and can take care of yourself and your friends." (Hanson, 1997, Para 8) This quote explains the overall just of the problem with alcohol in American society compared to that over other countries. It is introduced at a young age. So by the time they are old enough to drink on their own it is not something that is kept from them thus it is not abused. " Basically, it is a difference of philosophy. In Europe, the consensus is that when alcohol is not exiled into a corner of society, it is demystified, and therefore a less alluring vice." (Hanson, 1997, Para 9)

Since the beginning of time of alcohol in the United States, there has been an ongoing problem getting it into control. From the time of the colonies making laws against drunkenness, because it was work of the devil, to the first laws of prohibition, to compel individual states to abide by a uniform code that was not the views of all. If America could just look abroad the seas, or to their neighbors, they can learn so much on how to accept this invention, as old as man itself, in to the daily life of all citizens of the United States.


David J. Hanson, PH,D. 1995. History of Alcohol and Drinking around the World. Alcohol Problems and Solutions. Retrieved 09 October 2009, from http://www2.potsdam.edu/hansondj/controversies/1114796842.html

Norman H. Clark, M.A., Ph.D. 2002. Prohibition. Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia. Retrieved on 09 October 2009, from http://search.ebscohost.com.kaplan.uah.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=fun...

Jeffrey A. Miron. (n.d.). Rethinking the Minimum Legal Drinking Age. Retrieved 09 October 2009, from http://www.dartmouth.edu/~dcare/pdfs/Miron.pdf

MADD. 2007. Brief History of the Drinking Age. Why 21?. Retrieved on 10 October 2009 from http://www.why21.org/history/

FindLaw. 2009. SOUTH DAKOTA v. DOLE, 483 U.S. 203 (1987). U.S. Supreme Court. Retrieved on 10 October 2009 from http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cgi-bin/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=483&invol=203

David J. Hanson, PH,D. 1997. Europeans Learn Responsible Drinking. Alcohol Problems and Solutions. Retrieved 10 October 2009, from http://www2.potsdam.edu/hansondj/YouthIssues/1077563832.html

Annie Griffiths. (October 2007). Big Government, Small Results. Atlantic Monthly, 300(3), 30.