US alcohol laws, why so harsh? (legal drinking age)

How do you get worse than “none”? I live in a highly populated county on the edge of Atlanta and I am 10 miles from the nearest bus or light rail option.

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (2003):

The National Minimum Drinking Age Act was passed in 1984.

Allegedly, it has to do with brain development. A while back, there was a local story about a 14YO girl dying of alcohol poisoning (she’d been straight-shotting tequila. Sad.) Anyway, the paper interviewed some expert who was explaining about the part of the brain that is responsible for comprehending the actions/consequences relationship. According to this expert, that part of the brain is not fully developed until about age 20, which is why teenagers tend to think they’re indestructible. They simply aren’t fully able to connect their actions with potential consequences. The ability to make that connection is a big part of “maturity”. Unfortunately, alcohol retards the development of that part of the brain, which is why you find people in their 30s who drank a lot as teenagers, and those 30-somethings still behave like teenagers - that part of their brain was prevented from developing.

And so, this bit of brain development was offered as a reason for the drinking age being set at 21. I’m not sure whether this “scientific information” was actually a factor in the lawmakers’ decision, or if this is all a bunch of after-the-fact rationalizing.

because america is big, and so spread out. in europe everything is clustered together. if your drunk you can still walk to the store, walk home, whatever. in america its easyer to end up with a store being 11 miles away and driveing being more practical. drinking and driveing being bad isn’t a myth.

The US polity includes the most unlikely mix of hedonism and puritanism imaginable. Sometimes in the same person. A hedonist for himself and puritan for others. For example, over 90% of adult Americans use contraceptives, but the US is probably the main drag on family planning for the rest of the world. I believe this is what is behind the “war on drugs”. People live in dread of the possibility that someone somewhere might be having fun.

On the other hand, drinking and driving is a deadly mixture. And most places in the US have dreadful public transit–or none. Canada is not that much better. Montreal’s used to be good, but a combination of shrinking public subsidy and a political reluctance to raise fares has gutted it.

Here’s an American Medical Association page on minimum legal drinking age:

Basically, when states dropped their legal drinking age, car crash fatalities went up. When they raised it, fatalities went down.

It’s a tradeoff between freedom and public saftey. I suspect it’s one of those compromises where nobody is really happy, but it’s tolerable.

The latter has to do with abortion, not contraception. “Main drag” meaning the U.S. declines to fund.

Any chance of a cite on that? It sounds plausable, but I’d love to learn more about this…


**“Shoot heathens”? ** :confused: :confused: :confused:

I know! Distateful practice isn’t it? And to be required to do it without strong drink to ease the soul…what is the world coming to!?

Heathen: One who adheres to the religion of a people or nation that does not acknowledge the God of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam.

There’s an interesting side note to all of this - an article in the Sunday New York Times magazine discussing the consequences of grain overproduction in the U.S. In the 19th century, much of that overproduction was converted to one form or another of booze, which meant that getting drunk was incredibly cheap, much cheaper than in Europe:

Here’s the full article (note that the link will go dead in about six days):

… And we have not mentioned on the main thread posts the role of MADD – Mothers Against Drunk Driving, a lobbying group started by the mothers (duh) who lost children to drunk drivers. They organized, raised bloody hell and lobbied effectively to (a) make drunk-driving laws more stringent and (b) raise the age. Item (a) made great sense, since indeed a plastered driver is a dangerous thing and for the longest time it was treated as something relatively minor (since, however, they have gone on to crusade for further tightening to the point of playing with the limits of reasonable enforceability – e.g. the zero-tolerance rule). Here’s how they posited their position on item (b): With the age being 18, this meant that you would have some High School seniors legally entitled to buy booze, and this meant it was that much easier for them to get it into the hands of the 15 and 16 year olds. Which is the exact age at which most americans get their first driving license. So you’d have people who are simultaneously inexperienced drinkers AND inexperienced drivers AND generally clueless about life. Raising it to 21 moves the problem upward to an age group that (you hope) have figured they “have something to lose”. They know it doesn’t keep the person who is committed to getting a drink from getting it, but feel that at least it helps cut down on some casual underage boozing.

As to how come you use the federal government to ram the age-21 limit down the throats of the several states, well the case was made that already where you had bordering states with different drinking ages, youths were driving across state boundaries to get sloshed, then drive back long distances.

As I understand things federal law does not prohibit an 18-year-old from purchasing a handgun by means of private sale. Feel free to correct me, though.

And sorry to continue the hijack.

Actually, I believe the bolded is legal. I’m not sure if this is state- or country-wide. I’m sure someone with more expertise will help us out on this one…

MADD is very much the answer. If JRDelirious hadn’t posted that I would have, and probably not with as good an explanation. They were a hugely potent political force at the time.

According to this report and its cites, alcohol-related traffic accidents dropped at the same time in Canada, where the minimum purchase age stayed at 18/19. This suggests that other factors were at play.

Drunk driving is a big reason for the drinking age of 21, but it’s a little bass-ackwards. The same effect (and far more effective enforcement) would be gotten by raising the driving age, but there’s something about America that resists this measure, and it’s the same thing that resists public transportation. America is far too wedded to personal liberties, and far too dismissive of social responsibilities, to countenance such action.

It’s legal in Wisconsin. There are some proposals to change that, however. Unfortunately, I can’t connect to the WI Law Library. I did find a"]news article about it, though.

It is not legal in either Michigan or Minnesota.

So I suck at coding. Let’s try that again:


I’m afraid it was in my local newspaper about a year ago, and I didn’t keep it around. But I found this:

While it doesn’t make exactly the same points as the newspaper article, it’s the same idea.


"Several studies released this year suggest teen drinking may cause more neurological damage than was previously thought. Contrary to the notion that the brain is fully developed by age 16 or 17, the new studies have found that significant development happens until the age of 21 and heavy drinking by teen-agers may inhibit that development. "


“Adolescent alcohol abuse and dependence may prove to be more damaging than alcoholism in adulthood by killing brain cells in the hippocampus, blocking brain receptors that form memories and causing protracted neurological impairments, the researchers say.”


I attended Washington State University back in 1984, when the school had a reputation as a big “party school”. That reputation was well-deserved because WSU sits very near the Washington/Idaho border. When I was there, the WA drinking age was 21, but Idaho’s was 19. So it was a simple matter for most college students to obtain alcohol before age 21.

owlstretchingtime writes:

> You can’t get a drink until you’re 21? So what do you do? How
> do you get through college without beer ? In britain beer is a
> major student food group (the others are pot noodles and
> kebabs).

O.K., first, I’m not going to make any statement about whether drinking alcohol is good or bad or whether setting any particular age limit is good or bad. It would take a while to look up relevant statistics and it’s not really even that interesting to me. However, I’m always astonished by the claim that it’s impossible for people to go without drinking for long periods. I found this particularly strange in the U.K., where I lived from 1987 to 1990 (and where I just got back from a vacation in). Some people couldn’t seem to understand that a culture in which people were expected to spend many evenings just drinking was just a cultural choice, not a human necessity.

In none of the social groups in the U.S. that I’ve spent any significant amount of time in was it typical for most people to drink every evening. This is not because I’ve been confined to a limited set of social groups. This includes the working-class rural area that I grew up in, the hippie/weirdo/freak college that I did most of my undergraduate work at, the two big state universities that I did my graduate work at, the white-collar offices that I’ve worked in, and any of the social activities that I spend my free time at. I’ve lived for significant amounts of time in Ohio, Maryland, Florida, and Texas. In none of these groups was it expected that you might drink more than a couple of drinks a day, and it wasn’t a big thing if you didn’t drink on any particular occasion.

This isn’t because any of these social groups insisted on teetotalism. Probably a few of the people I knew didn’t drink at all, but none of them made a big deal about it, and I suspect anyone who did make a big deal about abstinence would have felt uncomfortable in these social groups, just like anyone who got noticeably drunk frequently would have felt uncomfortable in them. Moderation in drinking is simply accepted and not even discussed.

O.K., so this moderation is a cultural pattern that I’ve fallen into, just like living in a society in which one is expected to spend many evenings drinking is a cultural pattern. But my point is that each of them is a cultural pattern, not a physical necessity for all human beings. I don’t know and don’t much care which of them is better for someone’s health, so I have no interest in proclaiming either of these patterns to be “better,” but I wish people wouldn’t assume that either pattern is somehow more “natural.”