The Reality of Teenage Drinking: Madison and the World

Maura Fennelly, Features Editor

Since the days of D.A.R.E. class in 5th grade, students have been taught, or strongly instructed, that nothing good comes from underage drinking. Phrases such as “nothing good happens after 10 P.M.” and the constant reminder not to give in to peer pressure are lessons adults constantly try to embed into high schoolers’ brains. Then come the facts of high school; teenagers do in fact consume alcohol. The incredibly high legal drinking age is not only excessive, but does little to prevent minors from participating in the activity. By the age of 15, 50% of teenagers in America have already had their first taste of alcohol (U.S. Dept. Health).

In 1984, the federal government stated that the legal purchase age of alcohol should be 21. Numerous statistics prove that teens have done little to abide by this law. In the United States, 11% of the total alcohol consumed in 2011 was by 12- 20 year olds. And out of that number, 90% of that alcohol was consumed by binge drinking. This excessive style of drinking is defined by five or more drinks for a male, and four or more for a female, or a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) greater than .08%.

A survey I conducted in our school showed that 27 out of 80 students admit to drinking on a “regular” basis (once a weekend or every other weekend). Interestingly enough, only 3 out 29 freshmen said yes, 12 out of 18 sophomores said yes, 12 out of 22 juniors, and 9 out of 15 seniors. The groups of people I asked were completely random and anonymous, so their answers were honest. Concerning the freshmen statistic, very few of the freshmen have encountered the issue of teenage drinking and partying, seeing as it is only September. The 12 out 0f 18 sophomores who said yes are evidence that, somewhere during freshman year of high school, many minors start to drink. Considering this statistic, what is the reason for the legal drinking age to be 21?

Other countries believe that a lower legal drinking age exposes teens to alcohol at an earlier age, and helps them learn first-hand the reality of it. Canada, having a drinking age of 18, reports 42% of teens drinking heavily, the U.S. reports 54%. That is only a 12% difference, but in terms of the number of teens it’s significant. “A Survey of European and U.S. drinking habits,” reports only 3% French people age 14-29 (with a drinking age of 17) drink once every day. This shows that a lower drinking age does not automatically mean that teens heavily drink on a regular basis. A lower legal drinking age does not mean teens will binge drink in greater proportions.

Also if the drinking age were to be lowered in America, kids wouldn’t have to lie to their parents about what they do on the weekends. Teens could be honest and ask their parents for rides to parties, which would help suppress drunk driving. While some parents accept that their children drink, others are completely opposed to the idea.

The statistics do not lie, teenage drinking in America will always be present. This is not to say that underage partying or alcohol consumption should be encouraged. Lowering the age will help control drunk driving and help teens adjust to the truth behind alcohol.  “21” is not preventing anything. Teenage drinking should be accepted by adults and treated with responsibility by the minors who partake in it.