Back to 18? A new chorus of critics says it's time to lower the drinking age.

67 Responses:

  1. taffer says:

    It's 19 in Canadia, and we don't seem to have quite the "ZOMG I'm 21, time for some binge drinking!" problem that seems to land a lot of college-age Americans in the hospital/jail/etc.

    Although there's a certain amount of symmetry to making it the same as the voting age.

    Not that 18 year olds up here have trouble getting alcohol...

  2. boggyb says:

    Rather amusingly, over in Blighty there's rumblings about raising the drinking age to 21. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/6551887.stm

    • autopope says:

      Which would be deeply annoying.

      It's actually something like 8, IIRC, for "allowed to consume small amounts of alcohol with parental supervision at home with meals", and 14 for "allowed to consume meals in restaurants or pubs", which often translates to a furtive half pint of beer provided by a parent. The "I'm 18, I can get plastered now" syndrome isn't anything like as common as what I've seen in the USA.

      Americans don't Get alcohol, just like Brits don't Get handguns.

      • boggyb says:

        True, but growing numbers of chavs have discovered alcohol, which is the main reason for increasing the age limit.

      • wfaulk says:

        14 for "allowed to consume meals...

        Wow. No wonder there's a much lower rate of childhood obesity in the UK. We let our kids eat here.

      • sweh says:

        UK laws are more complicated than that (obviously):-) http://www.erowid.org/chemicals/alcohol/alcohol_law2.shtml seems an accurate summary

      • infrogmation says:

        I repeatedly hear suprise from visitors to the US about minors not being allowed into bars, including ones that serve food and have live music performances. They would generally say, "You mean, not allowed in without a parent..." and I'd have to explain that there was no such exception as they shook their heads at how the US is still run by the Puritains.

        • txdave says:

          This is a per state restriction. Here in Texas some bars w/ live music allow all ages with a parent. And this deep in Southern Baptist ETOH law foolishness country.

  3. i have been say that we need to lower the age of drinking and raise the age of smoking ciggs for a long time now and i am smoker.

    • pygmalion says:

      I have always said they should lower the drinking age and raise the driving age. Living next to a highschool was a very scary experience.

      Of course, lowering the drinking age doesn't make it automatic that young'ins get into bars and clubs. When the drinking age was 18, there were a few clubs in Phoenix that you had to be 25 to get in due to insurance clauses. When they changed the drinking age to 21, it took awhile for all the clubs to become 21 and over.

  4. telecart says:

    Good luck, yanks, you've been missing out on all the fun.

  5. balamuthia says:

    Sadly, whether the legal drinking age (or age of sexual consent for that matter) in the U.S. is 8 or 80 we will always have the irresponsible binge drinkers.

    Most Americans don't teach their children responsibility or moderation with regard to sex, alcohol, or drugs- preferring instead to stick our heads in the sand and act like such things don't exist (thank you, puritanism).

    • lars_larsen says:

      The hopes are parents will be forced to teach their kids how to drink if they're legally allowed to buy alcohol when they're still at home.

      • balamuthia says:


        I figured it was because the alcohol lobbies realized that teenagers are their biggest target market, and it's currently illegal for them to advertise to them.

        But I'm crazy like that, not believing our government has our best interest at heart and all.

        • lars_larsen says:

          No, its bad PR for the alcohol lobby when kids overdose on alcohol at college because they think its harmless to drink a gallon and a half of vodka in 20 minutes.

          You trot one crying mother into a government assembly and you'll get your vote through real fast. I've yet to see the alcohol lobby be so persuasive.

          AFAIK there is no law preventing alcohol companies from advertising in certain ways. Its a self-enforced ban the industry has agreed on without government assistance. Probably out of fear of new regulations if they didn't.

          • balamuthia says:

            In a lot of the rest of the world, the legislation is stacked against alcohol companies:

            "Alcohol advertising is the promotion of alcoholic beverages by alcohol producers through a variety of media. Along with tobacco advertising, it is one of the most highly-regulated forms of marketing."

            You're right in that the U.S. alcohol companies (unlike tobacco) are self-regulated out of fear of being regulated by the government:

            "Concerns exist that irresponsible advertising practices or "pushing the envelope" with audience composition may lead to permanent legislation governing the advertising of beverage alcohol."

            That doesn't change my point though. Reasons for their acting on advertising restrictions are based in fear of retaliation, not concern for anyone's well-being.

            • lars_larsen says:

              Yes, I know that. It goes without saying, which is why I didn't say it.

              Its completely consistent with what I'm saying, but not with what you're saying. Why should they fear retaliation if they're controlling our government as you suggest?

  6. It's 18 in Australia, and in my experience, most peaople get the "it's cool to binge drink" bug out of their system before they turn 18 anyway.

    • korgmeister says:

      Of course, it helps that we can drink when we're under 18 so long as a "supervising adult" (read: Anyone over 18 and conscious) is present.

      I love that loophole.

      But I have to admit, I'm the sort of person who buys booze for underage kids, despite the stupid law against it.

      • I would have bought it for my friends, but none of us ever got asked for ID, from about 15 onwards, so it wasn't an issue. Even during schoolies week, we didn't get asked for it - and not one of us looked even close to being old enough to buy alcohol.

        • korgmeister says:

          Well, schoolies is a big source of tourism dollars so there's probably an unspoken agreement by the authorities to turn a blind eye to sales of alcohol to under 18s, lest the celebrations end up going elsewhere.

          • Good point. The media loves to make a big deal out of the relatively low number of alcohol related incidents and arrests they make during schoolies every year, and debate about the age of drinking, and youth drinking and all that other stuff that changing a law won't fix.

        • pozorvlak says:

          Heh. I got carded just the other day, and I'm 27. First time it had happened for a while, though...

  7. edouardp says:

    In the current issue of Reason Magazine - "An Epidemic of Meddling: the totalitarian implication of public health".

    That's a magazine for those libertarians that everyone makes fun of, right? You know, the people that say "I shouldn't have to pay taxes, but I should still be able to drive on the highway system!", and other hilarious proclamations...

  8. infrogmation says:

    The US "drinking age" is graphic proof of extreme voter apathy by 18 to 21 year olds. No way that could have been imposed and have remained for a generation if any substantial number of the demographic gave a damn and were willing to pull a little lever a couple times a year.

    • korgmeister says:

      Yeah, but what if it turned out to be one of the more Libertarian Republicans who wanted to lower the drinking age? Surely you wouldn't endorse young people voting republican ;)

      Honestly, I think regardless of the voting turnout of young voters, there's still probably more votes to be lost than gained from lowering the drinking age until the fogeys become comfortable with it, which is why I don't think it's been seriously mooted yet.

    • jwz says:

      I don't think it's fair to blame this on the apathy of young voters, because it's not like something got voted down. And there's no write-in section on the voting form where you can say, "PS, change teh drinking age". According to Wikipedia, there have only ever been two legal challenges to this since 1984; one was ten years ago, and the other was for New York State only.

      "So you vote for television, and everyone else, as far as the eye can see, votes to fuck you with switchblades. That's voting."

      • otterley says:

        The reason that the drinking age in 21 in most (all?) states is that Congress conditioned the reimbursement of federal highway funding to states on their passing laws raising the drinking age from 18 to 21. Congress can retract the blackmail just as easily as it issued it.

        • jwz says:

          Right, I'm aware of that; I was just trying to say, "getting Congress to retract that blackmail is a little more involved than simply showing up at the polls."

        • wisn says:

          Rescinding the highway funds condition wouldn't be half the battle. You'd then have to coordinate campaigns in fifty states, pitching messages to voters and local legislators in direct opposition to MADD, who incidentally get free advertising on TV, radio and newspapers for their agendas.

          Nevermind the number of states whose minimum drinking ages have been 21 since the repeal of Prohibition.

          I'm betting it'd be easier to nationalize gay marriage.

  9. Not that they're wrong about the drinking age, but when Reason mag says "a new chorus of critics says...", I'm pretty sure they really mean is "a few short-attention-span Randriods hop on the bandwagon of..."

    Not, of course, to detract from the fact that they happen to be right in this case.

  10. cattycritic says:

    The obsession kids have with drinking and the drinking trends and the drinking+driving fatalities have a number of causes and can't just be simply explained or solved by the drinking age being 18.

    People here in the US have a really stupid obsession with getting drunk, and it seems to be shared with Germans, Brits, the Irish, Danes, and Finns. At the same time, according to this same article, "Europe remains the heaviest drinking region in the world." The question is, which nations have highest rates of alcoholism?

    In my travels to Europe, I noticed that light and casual alcohol consumption is just a normal part of life, with people having a glass of wine or a beer at lunch and/or at dinner practically every day. On European flights, one gets wine with one's meal like a civilized person. There are a lot of Europeans at my company, and we have a kegerator here. It's pretty typical to have a (good, microbrew) beer together around 6pm, and talk about current work issues, recently interviewed job candidates, etc.

    My parents had a pretty casual attitude toward *responsible* alcohol consumption. I had my first sips of my parents' drinks at the age of 3 or 4. I had my first glass of wine with my dad and a family friend at the age of 12, and drank my first whole beer at a barbeque, with my mother's permission, when I was 16. It was never a big mystery or something only adults were allowed to do, and they didn't make a big deal of it.

    So it seems to me the real solution is in the cultural attitude toward drinking, and has almost nothing to do with something so brain-dead simple as fixing a number for legal drinking age. The arguments for and against a particular drinking age have always seemed pretty specious anyway.

    • balamuthia says:

      You hate freedom!!!

      Sorry, you were making far too much sense. I had to detract from what you were saying lest people catch on and start thinking critically.

    • theoutrider says:

      Interestingly enough, what you describe is pretty much exactly what alcohol consumption was like growing up for me and my friends (in Germany). Occasional sips from Dad's beer at the town fair as a kid, occasional beers in hot summers, a glass of wine with the Christmas dinner and a glass of champagne on New Year's once I hit my teens, just responsible handling of small amounts every now and then.

      Me and my friends (well, they - I never really drank much and just stopped completely somewhere along the way) did, of course, smuggle booze on every school trip past the age of thirteen, but teenagers will be teenagers. People threw up sometimes, but nobody got hurt (much), and it's all good really.

      However, since I've moved to Britain, I do have the feeling that even fairly regular people here around my age (say, mid twenties to early thirties) get very, very drunk a lot more often than I'm used to from Germany. As in, "I can barely remember what happened" drunk, and not just rarely so. Down to the pub with the workmates after hours one evening a week, a couple of pints over the evening, and bam you're ridiculously pissed. This is something I've not seen at home, neither with colleagues nor my friends. It's fairly common to just have a glass of wine in the evening after work, but getting drunk sure as hell isn't.

      I frankly have no idea at all why this seems to be so very different in other countries.

      • theoutrider says:

        Thinking about this, the whole "getting drunk very often" part possibly sounds a lot worse than it is now. The people I know here do get more drunk more often than I'm used to from my folks at home, but "one evening a week" is a bit of an exaggeration. It does seem like a fairly regular occurrence to have a few pints after work here though, and occasionally it's a few pints too many.

    • korgmeister says:

      The Japanese are serious pissheads, too. I've at times remarked that Alcohol seems to be the national religion of Japan.

    • nomenklatura says:

      I've thought for a long time that this compulsive need to drink in large quantities was just an anglosaxon/northern trait, as opposed to the sophisticated continental european habit of drinking quality stuff in moderate amounts. I guess these stereotypes just about stand up to scrutiny in the broadest sense, but I don't think that's all there is to it.

      In Italy drinking has become a lot more fashionable recently, essentially as a result of a sustained advertising assault by alcohol companies. The funny thing is most italians just can't hold their drink, so anything above two pints is an almighty piss up! In any case, in my experience there are just as many hardened alcoholics in Italy as there are in England.

      For me the biggest issue with the 21+ law is that it seems to pretty much prevent *all* teenagers from being able to go and see their favourite bands!

    • belgand says:

      The thing that has always struck me as odd and unpleasant as a non-drinker is how almost all social events are inevitably tied to drinking.

      Go out to eat and alcohol will be commonly pushed and accepted by many as a necessary accessory whether it be a beer with a pizza or a glass of wine with dinner. That's not including having a cocktail or two if you have to wait for a table. Nor does it include a customary beer (or several) at sporting events.

      Parties? The same thing. Drinking is considered a standard function of most parties and you'd get few attendees (and likely disqualified from being a party) if alcohol was not available.

      Even the expression "going out" is typically short for "going out to drink". Whether you go explicitly to a bar to socialize with friends, to see live music, or out to clubs for dancing alcohol is considered integral and any place that does not offer it would be very unlikely to be patronized unless they offer something very compelling in exchange.

      For the non-drinker the two most common assumptions are that you don't drink due to religious reasons or due to a history of alcohol abuse. "Health" is usually the distant third and even the very mention of "no thank you, I don't drink" is usually met with a bit of shock since drinking is clearly a basic, fun thing that everyone likes to do. The idea that someone would be opposed to drinking itself is almost never considered.

      So is the European stereotype more responsible about alcohol consumption? Yes, in a way. There certainly seems to be more focus on drinking in smaller amounts and actually doing so to enjoy what you're drinking rather than drinking to get drunk. On the other hand the more casual nature of it promotes a culture where alcohol is even more prevalent and an accepted and expected part of daily life. Something that, in some ways, is far more insidious and, I would consider, possibly even more dangerous.

      Of course, back on topic, age has nothing to do with any of this. It's just as easy to make a responsible decision at 16 to stay straight-edge (and actually follow through with it well after you're legal) and eschew alcohol as it is to go out with friends at 27 and get so drunk that they stop serving you.

  11. lars_larsen says:

    The most fascinating thing about alcohol is the innumerable ways it can kill you.

  12. positricity says:

    I believe that people should be free to fuck themselves up as much and as badly as they want -- on alcohol or any other substance -- as long as they don't hurt anybody else.

    Sure, it's going to hurt their parents and friends if they off themselves at young ages -- and taxpayers and those who pay health insurance premiums bear some of the cost of cleaning up the mess -- but these are small prices to pay for a free and accountable citizenry.

    • balamuthia says:

      See...that's the problem...

      Almost no one ever "just fucks themselves up" with drugs or alcohol. Addicts are too fucking stupid for that.

      They have to do stupid shit like kill people in accidents, give birth to addicted or retarded babies (thank you, fetal alcohol syndrome), and the health insurance premiums you speak about are nothing compared to the mountainous cost to the public healthcare system.

      A huge portion of the addicted population are also poor and without medical insurance, so the government foots the *entire* bill for rehabilitation programs, and medical cost you might not consider which are related to drinking and drug use like, oh, organ transplants! Hepatitis! Accidents resulting from using a lawnmower while drunk off your ass! CPS having to take your kids away and process them to foster homes!

      The list of fun, incidental, expenses goes on and on!

      • positricity says:

        No sarcasm. Perhaps a bit of naivety and proto-libertarianism, tempered with under-sleeping.

        What do you suggest we do about the numerous, irresponsible fuckwads who violate the implicit social contract with their idiotic drinking behavior? Ban alcohol? The last time we tried that, we got 13 years of hell -- and the Kennedys.

  13. I recall my freshman orientation at college in the '60's was mainly about beer drinking. The instruction from the 'orientation counselor' was 'one does not sip beer, one drinks beer'.

  14. belgand says:

    I'm 25, I've never had a drink in my life, and I'm fundamentally opposed to our drinking-oriented culture and even I can see that the system is rather arbitrary and pretty much completely fails to work.

    The one reasonable argument I've heard in regards to 21 over 18 is that it tends to limit access to alcohol to college-age and above. The reasoning goes as such: if kids are allowed access to alcohol anyone in their peer group will also tend to have easy access to alcohol. Since 18 year-olds are more likely than 21 year-olds to interact with peers as young as 15 or 16 you'd be increasing their access to alcohol. On the other hand, it's very likely that 18 is generally the minimum age for the peer groups of 21 year-olds. Thus the law accepts the idea that it is going to be frequently violated and is designed more to restrict the age groups that will have convenient access to alcohol rather than function as a bright-line restriction.

    I don't exactly buy this argument, but it does have a certain degree of practical sense to it. While high schoolers frequently will have access to alcohol the level of access is vastly lower than that of college students.

    The best reason to lower the age though is for shows. Even as a non-drinker (though I accept this as being in the vast minority) I routinely got screwed out of shows for being under 21 (or at least got stiffed for an extra couple of bucks). The worst being Man or Astro-Man playing at a 21+ venue a few weeks before I turned 21 on their last tour... just before they went on indefinite hiatus.

  15. sunsetdriver says:

    This is from Reason magazine. In a 2004 poll asking who their editors would vote for, over 50% said they wouldn't vote.

    So if you're looking for a good pressure group for legislators or a good pool for a referendum vote, I'd look elsewhere.

  16. defenestr8r says:

    well that would be one way of solving the license issue...