Legal Drinking Age
The social, health and emotional problems associated with alcohol abuse have led some politicians and commentators to suggest that the legal drinking age should be raised from 18 years to 21 years. Do you agree? Give reasons and supporting evidence for your answer. The issue of whether Australia should raise the legal drinking age to twenty-one or keep it at eighteen is a widely debated topic, this essay will educate and argue points in favour of the drinking age being raised.
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Alcohol is the most widely consumed drug in the world (Shannon 2002), and is the most prevailing drug used by Australian high school students (Yalom 1996). In Australia, it is illegal for people under the age of eighteen to buy, receive, possess, or drink alcohol in a hotel or other public place such as streets, parks and beaches (Shannon 2002). Reducing alcohol consumption by young people through a raise in the drinking age should be a priority for the Australian community and government.
This essay will attempt to argue three main points in favour of the Australian legal alcohol drinking age being raised from eighteen years to twenty-one years. Firstly, the dangerously close ages of legally consuming alcohol and legally driving a motor vehicle; secondly, the health issues related to the consumption of alcohol amongst young people; and thirdly, some positive points that have come from the United States after the drinking age was raised from eighteen to twenty-one. In Australia, a person can, at the earliest, gain their drivers licence at the age of seventeen; only one year before s/he can legally consume alcohol.
Drink driving is one of the greatest problems caused by alcohol. Biddulph (2003), states that drivers under the influence of alcohol suffer from impaired vision, perception, judgement, and reaction due to the effect on the central nervous system that alcohol has. Biddulph also states that due to slower reaction times, limited coordination, and lack of attentiveness, which are all crucial to driving, young drivers become increasingly prone to being injured or even killed in a car accident.
A report by the National Drug Research Institute in 2000 found that alcohol was involved in one third of all serious car accidents in Australia, causing more than 400 road deaths and 7700 serious road injuries on average per year (Shannon 2002, page 14). Car accidents caused by drivers under the influence do not always end in the driver being injured or killed, many times the lives of innocent people are ruined because of another person’s foolishness and lack of awareness.
The penalties received for driving under the influence may be harsh, but they are relatively insignificant when compared to the costs in lives of many accidents caused by drink drivers. By raising the drinking age to twenty-one, the Australian government would be protecting the people most likely to suffer from alcohol related harm, because the likelihood of people contributing to such harm would have been lowered.
Young people will become more experienced, safer drivers on the roads and be less tempted to drive after consuming alcohol, which will, in turn, lower the number of possible accidents on Australian roads through the act of raising the legal drinking age in Australia to twenty-one. As well as the issues involved with driving under the influence, there are many health issues that come with drinking alcohol at a young age. Shannon (2002) explains that younger people do not have enough experience with alcohol to know how much is too much, which is why many young people result in getting intoxicated and drunk at social gatherings.
By drinking too much alcohol, which many people around 17-19 do, great strain is put on the organs in a body, especially the liver and the brain. Scientists have told us that the brain does not finish developing until a person is twenty years of age; the final part of the brain to develop is the part that makes responsible judgements (Shannon 2002). Through drinking alcohol at the young age of eighteen, critical brain development is damaged and irresponsible choices and judgements will most probably result. By raising the drinking age to twenty-one, the brain is able to fully develop every part, ensuring a healthy future.
Other health issues directly related to drinking at a young age include a loss of memory, a poor school performance, and possible injuries and mortalities. When young people drink excessively, they will begin to notice a decreasing level of memory. Biddulph (2003) tells us that up to ten per cent of a person’s memory can be lost within a given period. Memory loss is the most noticeable complaint of young people. At age seventeen a person graduates from their last year of high school; in the year of s/he turning eighteen they begin their further studies at university or TAFE.
The average time spent doing further education is approximately four years, from eighteen to the year a person turns twenty-one. During these vital first years of further education, under the current drinking law, a person has the freedom to be under the influence of alcohol, harming the brains development and also creating a loss of memory, neither of which would help a person undergoing further studying. Additionally, alcohol can also be directly related to a poor school performance by a person. This is because a poor performance academic wise has been linked with young alcohol abuse (Biddulph 2003).
Alcohol decreases a student’s ability to consistently meet the rigors of school work, because alcohol abuse clouds a person’s mental capacities and influences motivation and attitudes about achievement. Thirdly, alcohol can ignite possible injuries and mortalities. A study shows that alcohol caused more than 100,000 deaths annually, and one person every two minutes is injured in an alcohol related accident in the United States (Biddulph 2003). As alcohol consumption increases, so to does the likelihood of traffic accidents, deaths, and criminal violence.
Healey (2007) states that “Young people engaged in more risky behaviours when they drink, 25% of people aged 18-24 experienced alcohol related injuries, compared to 18% of adults”. He also found that “50% of cases of domestic, physical and sexual violence” amongst young people were due to being under the influence of alcohol (page 37). By raising the legal drinking age, young people will be supported in their studies, helping them in the long run both academically and physically in relation to their health.
The third major point in favour of a raised drinking age are the positives that have come from the United States after they raised the legal age from eighteen to twenty-one. Drinking alcohol should be delayed for as long as possible, this is because the older teenagers are before starting to drink, the less likely they are to use alcohol excessively. Initially, the United States’ main aim of raising the legal drinking age was to reduce the serious consequences that alcohol has on youth, which in Lenk (2009)’s opinion, has been a success. By raising the drinking age to an age of greater maturity, alcohol abuse is decreased.
Evidence from the United States shows us that lowering the legal drinking age increased consumption as well as related problems; while increasing the drinking age has reduced problems and ultimately saved the lives of many young people (Lenk 2009). Given that young Australian lives are at risk, we cannot afford to forget what a cost to America an eighteen drinking age was and how much of a success a raised twenty-one years drinking age was. George Santayana (historian) once said “Those who cannot remember their past are condemned to repeat it” (Lenk 2009, page 7).
In conclusion, the physical consequences and health problems surrounded by consuming alcohol in addition to the proven success of the United States raised legal drinking age has proved that Australia too should raise the legal drinking age to twenty-one years. Through the evidence provided it is clear that a person’s health can be greatly damaged permanently because at the age of eighteen, a person’s body is not fully developed or capable of taking large amounts of alcohol when compared to a person at the age of twenty-one who has greater maturity levels, more life experience, and a fully developed brain as well as other organs.
At age eighteen, a person has a greater vulnerability to alcohol and its effects, leaving them more likely to indulge in risky behaviour. Therefore, to protect not only the lives of Australia’s youth, but also of all Australians, raising the drinking age to twenty-one years of age is the best choice to make as it comes with more positives than an eighteen legal alcohol consumption age does. Reference list Biddulph, S. (2003). Alcohol: What’s a parent to believe?
Minnesota: Hazelden. Pp:34, 37-39. Healey, J. (2007). Alcohol abuse. Australia: The Spinney Press. Pp: 1, 3, 11-13, 19, 27-31. Lenk, L. Nelson, T. & Toomey, T. The age-21 minimum legal drinking age. Policy case studies Pp: 1, 7. Doi: 10. 1111/j. 1360-04 43. 2009. 027 42. x Shannon, M. (2002). Drugs in Australia: alcohol. Australia: Binara Publishing Pty Ltd. Pp:4-16. Yalom, I. (1996). Treating adolescents. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Pp: 77-78.