Kenneth Ballenegger

Angel Investor, Engineer, Startup Founder

The USA has long had one of the strictest alcohol policy of the world. While countries like China or Italy have no age limit on alcohol, and most of the rest of the world sets the limit at 16 to 18 years of age, the US maintains a 21 year old drinking age.

Some people argue that all alcohol is inherently bad. This sentiment is what brought about prohibition in the 20’s, and as history has taught us, it was an utter and total disaster. Alcohol consumption actually increased, a majority of American citizens were turned into criminals (spreading the notion that crime is okay) and organized crime rose up to fill the demand.

Alcohol diminishes your social inhibitions, and some people grow into a pattern of chronic drinking and become aggressive and unpleasant to be around. We have to realize that this is only a small subset of the much larger drinking population. Should everybody be punished, prohibition-style, for the few people who abuse alcohol? I don’t see the governments banning knives because some use them to stab people…

So then, what makes 21 a fair age to let people consume alcohol? The most common response is “Kids shouldn’t be drinking… under 21s aren’t mature enough to drink responsibly.” Yet, they consider us mature enough to get a job, live by ourselves, go to jail, pay taxes, or even enroll in the army to fight and die for our country.

The most sensible argument for the 21 age limit states that the law saves lives, citing statistics from the brief time in the 70’s when some states lowered the drinking age as a response to the Vietnam War, and alcohol-related fatalities went up. However, it’s a biased interpretation. The vast majority of deaths were because of drunk driving, and the solution to the problem is not to prohibit drinking (which, by the way, most people are going to do regardless of the law), but rather to educate people that they should never drive under the influence.

This brings up the parallel of sex and condoms. The argument used to be that one should not have sex before marriage, period. Of course, people would still engage in premarital sex, and with the growing spread of HIV and teen pregnancy, it became an issue much like drunk driving still is today. However, we moved past our moral block, and told people “If you’re gonna have sex, use a condom!” Through education, most people today now use condoms when they have sex outside of a serious relationship.

When we look at European countries where alcohol is much more accepted (I would drink wine with my family during meals, for example), we don’t see the delinquent apocalypse that nay-sayers predict for America, should we ever lower the restrictions. In fact, the alcohol-abuse situation is much worse in the USA, with the law, than in restriction-less Italy, or the rest of Europe. Prohibiting alcohol just adds extra incentive for youngsters wanting to rebel.

On the other hand, there are many disadvantages to the strict American laws, first of which is that it turns a great many teens into criminals, and prevents us from enjoying a drink or a party legally. Not only that, but it also makes it extra difficult for us to enjoy nightlife in great urban areas, to go out and enjoy our favorite bands or djs. Even for adults, other annoying laws force all alcohol sales to stop at a certain time, meaning that most venues will close at that time, cutting our night short at 2am, or whatever the time restriction I’d in your particular county / state.

I really think the US would do well to lower its drinking age to 18 and start to educate people on alcohol, rather than blindly prohibit its consumption.