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An argument in favor of lowering the legal drinking age

February 19, 2014 - Andrea Johnson
Years ago, I interviewed a high school exchange student from Germany who was surprised by just how stupid North Dakota teenagers can be about alcohol. She watched or heard about her American classmates drinking to excess at parties and sneaking alcohol and compared it to her own experiences in Europe, where drinking wasn't as big a deal because her parents had taught her how to drink appropriately and in moderation.

In Europe, where she was from, parents might let kids have a bit of wine on special family occasions. Kids learn to appreciate different types of wines. The legal drinking age in most European countries is 18 or 16 rather than 21, as it has been in the United States for the past few decades. Germany apparently allows teenagers to drink in public at 14 with the approval of a parent or guardian and parents can serve children alcohol in a private family setting at a younger age.

I think there is a great deal of sense in the European approach. The American way turns alcohol into something forbidden, which is usually irresistible to a teenager of a certain age. Most adults, if we're honest, know that a lot of kids are going to drink anyway, regardless of the law. My high school classmates drank. My parents' classmates drank. My grandparents and their peer group drank when they were under 18. And, judging by the youth risk survey that kids in North Dakota fill out every two years, high school kids in North Dakota still drink too. I don't drink and never have, but I am a rare exception to the rule.

The problem is that when kids in North Dakota drink, they do risky and stupid things, like drive drunk or engage in risky sexual behavior or drink until they pass out. They may get in a car with another kid who's been drinking. They may be afraid to call their parents or the police for help because they are afraid of being arrested for underage drinking. Those who do get caught for underage drinking end up with a criminal record that can affect their future success. It's always seemed to me that it would make more sense to teach them how to drink responsibly rather than to make it illegal for them to do what so many kids have always done.

The argument in favor of keeping the legal drinking age at 21 is that people under 21 are immature and impulsive and less able to handle alcohol. That is true, but it is true of a great many other things we let kids do. People 18 and over can go to war, have sex, get married, have and raise children, sign contracts, go into debt. They do most of those things better when they have some guidance from parents and older and wiser adults. Drinking probably shouldn't be any different.


Article Comments



Feb-21-14 4:52 PM

Slide,.did I get your shoes wet. I think were almost even.Goinpeace


Feb-21-14 9:34 AM

Hey landslide, you're starting to sound like olddog again. And we all know what happened to him...


Feb-20-14 8:21 PM

Goatpea I'm asking you..

I already have said I need nothing to help me speak my mind. I am the one and same 365 days a year and I only blog by one name.. unlike you GoatpeaedGarr

So right Chad liquid courage.. Many folks cannot live without it..


Feb-20-14 7:49 PM

they don't call it liquid courage for nothing


Feb-20-14 7:49 PM

they don't call it liquid courage for nothing


Feb-20-14 7:10 PM

Matt self ownership.. Do you give your son the keys to the car.. tell him hes smart he can drive.. he doesnt need a drivers liscense???

Does your wife run her business without a liscense..

If you are so NOT in favor of law then why do you obey it?

All show and no go.. Complain and complain but actually participate in every thing you are so against..

I'm against drunks.. Therefore I do not drink.. Maybe you should practice what you preach..


Feb-20-14 10:36 AM

Thank you, landslide, for your poignant case and argument against self-ownership. You should really be proud, particularly when you consider how often you come on here screaming about Obama this and Obama that.


Feb-19-14 7:58 PM

What are the effects of alcohol on driving performance? These range from anaesthesia after large amounts of alcohol to impairment of behavioural and cognitive capabilities after small doses. Alcohol may also decrease motivation to comply with safety standards, which may result in an active search for dangerous situations (such as competitive behaviour, or excessive speed). In general, all functions which are important in the safe operation of a motor vehicle can be affected by the levels of alcohol well below current legal limits operating in EU countries. There is wide agreement amongst medical and professional experts that a BAC of 0.5 is the highest level that should be permitted..

same web sight info..


Feb-19-14 7:58 PM

ETST fact sheet on web..

Drink driving in the EU? Driving whilst under the influence of alcohol contributes annually to at least 10,000 deaths on EU roads. In the EU as a whole, around 2-3% of journeys are associated with an illegal Blood Alcohol Limit (BAC), resulting in 30-40% of driver deaths (ESCAPE 2003, ETSC 2003). A minor reduction of driving under the influence of alcohol would have a large effect on collision occurrence. In Europe as a whole, reductions in drink driving deaths have been more substantial over the last decade than reductions in other areas such as speeding on the roads (ETSC PIN Annual Report 2007)(1). The reductions have been most impressive in the Czech Republic, Belgium and Germany where drink driving deaths have decreased by more than 10% every year on average over the period 1996 to 2005. In Hungary, Lithuania, Finland, Spain and Great Britain, on the other hand, the drink driving problem has become worse


Feb-19-14 7:54 PM

What is it about people that they need to drink?

Can the not stand the pearson they are?

Do they need booze for sexual relations?

Do they need booze so they can speak their mind?

Is it becasue they cannot express them selves unless they have booze?

Never ever could figure out the getting drunk, making an ass of yourself so you can get sick and puke your guts out and feeling like crap the next day.

Then do it all over again..

How many of you hit your finger with a hammer and then do it all over again?


Feb-19-14 3:25 PM


Good luck getting this kind of reasonable approach past the likes of MADD (AKA Modern-day prohibitionist wannabes). They're the ones responsible for the law in question.


Feb-19-14 12:43 PM

i like the part about how kids are taught this, it can be applyed to everything in life. so look at your kids and see what kind of a job you did.


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