Alcohol is a depressant that affects your vision, coordination, reaction time, multitasking ability, judgment, and decision-making (Short and Long Term). Seventy-five percent of adults in America drink alcohol (Health). Because of the large impact that alcohol consumption has had on America, it has become a hot topic of debate. Specifically, on whether lowering the age at which a person can legally drink would decrease the amount of alcohol abuse by minors. To properly address the issue of underaged drinking in America, the legal drinking age should stay at twenty-one.If lowered, the amount of alcohol being consumed by persons under twenty-one would increase, causing a rise in alcohol related accidents and death. Origins of Alcohol Ethanol, the alcohol we consume, is made by fermenting and distilling fruits and grains. Alcohol fermentation is a natural process which occurs when yeast converts carbohydrates, such as starch or sugar, into alcohol. An example would be wheat used to create beer, or grapes to produce wine. Most plant matter can be used to produce alcohol.
When an alcoholic beverage is consumed, 20 percent of the alcohol is absorbed in the stomach and 80 percent in the small intestine (Freudenrich). The speed of absorption depends upon the concentration of alcohol in the beverage, gender, weight, and whether your stomach is full or empty; food slows down the absorption of alcohol. Men generally have more muscle mass and less fat then women, so one drink will not affect a man as it would a woman.
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A person doesn’t start feeling the effects of alcohol until it is carried through the bloodstream, to the body’s tissues. This process takes about twenty minutes, depending on the amount originally consumed. Once absorbed by the bloodstream, five percent of the alcohol is expelled through the kidneys as urine, five percent through exhalation of the lungs, and the rest is broken down into acetic acid by the liver (Freudenrich). A person becomes “drunk” when an excess of alcohol is consumed and cannot be absorbed by the liver. Throughout history, alcohol has provided a large variety of uses for the human race.
No one knows exactly when alcohol was first used, but intentionally fermented drinks existed as early as 10,000 B. C. (Patrick, 12-13). In ancient Egypt, brewing dates back to the beginning of civilization, where alcohol played an important roll in worship of the gods (Cherrington, vol. 1, 404). Alcoholic beverages were used for pleasure, nutrition, medicine and ritual. In China, alcohol was considered a spiritual food, playing an important role in religious life (Hucker, 28).
"In ancient times people always drank when holding a memorial ceremony, offering sacrifices to gods or their ancestors, pledging resolution before going into battle, celebrating victory, before feuding and official executions, for taking an oath of allegiance, while attending the ceremonies of birth, marriage, reunions, departures, death, and festival banquets" (Fei-Peng, 13). Greeks were the most restrained when it came to alcohol consumption in ancient history. This had to do with their rules stressing moderate drinking, diluting wine with water, and avoiding excess (Austin, 11).
However, intoxication at gatherings and festivals was not uncommon. By 1,700 B. C. , wine making was commonplace, and during the next thousand years wine drinking assumed the same function so commonly found around the world: It was incorporated into religious rituals, it became important in hospitality, it was used for medicinal purposes and it became an integral part of daily meals (Babor, 1986, pp. 2-3). Greek philosopher, Plato, thought wine, in moderation, was beneficial to one’s health and happiness.
With all of these ancient countries prospering, and consuming alcohol for the better, it is difficult to believe that alcohol consumption laws are being abused every day by underaged drinkers. Temperance Movement In the early days of America, alcohol was viewed positively, with the idea that it was to be received with thankfulness. Even toddlers drank alcohol; it was seen as healthful for everyone.
Ironically enough, for over thirty years, those who abstained from alcohol had to pay life insurance rates that were ten percent higher than that for drinkers. Those who held back from alcohol were seen as "thin and watery, and as mentally cranked, in that he repudiated the good creatures of God as found in alcoholic drinks" (Kobler, 26). There was an expectation that abusing alcohol was not acceptable. "Drunkenness was condemned and punished, but only as an abuse of a God-given gift. Drink itself was not looked upon as culpable, any more than food deserved blame for the sin of gluttony. Excess was a personal indiscretion" (Aaron and Musto, 132).
Violations did occur, but for the most part, alcohol abuse was not a major problem, until urbanization. With an increase in poverty and crime in colonial America, came an increase in alcohol abuse. "A sizeable number of Americans for the first time began to drink to excess by themselves. The solo binge was a new pattern of drinking in which periods of abstinence were interspersed every week, month, or season with one to three-day periods of solitary inebriation" (Rorabaugh, 144). This is when people began to search for solutions to drinking problems.
One suggestion came from one of the most influential physicians of the period, Dr. Benjamin Rush. In 1784, Dr. Rush argued that the excessive use of alcohol was injurious to a person’s physical and psychological health (Katcher, 275). Many thought that the only way to prevent drunkenness was to abstain from drinking alcohol completely. With the influence of Rush’s belief, the first temperance association was formed in Connecticut in 1789, and within the next few decades other temperance organizations were formed in eight states (Ashbury, 28-31).
The future of this movement to moderate alcohol seemed bright, but many of it’s leaders overestimated their strength; they expanded their activities and took positions on other moral issues. This just turned into political bickering, and by the early 1820s their movement was stalled. To get out of this standstill, most temperance organizations argued that the only way to prevent drunkenness was to eliminate alcohol consumption completely. While the Temperance Movement began by advocating the temperate, or moderate, use of alcohol, it now said that no one should be permitted to drink any amounts of alcohol (Royce, 40).
They became much more extreme, devoted advocates of their cause. They became prohibitionists. “For decades the American public was flooded with temperance pamphlets, temperance novels, temperance newspapers, temperance sermons, and temperance lectures-the longest sustained and perhaps the largest organized effort at mass communication about a social issue that the country has ever seen” (Room, 22). Interestingly enough, root beer, the carbonated soft drink, was developed by prohibitionists in the hopes that it would replace beer in popularity; that effort was obviously unsuccessful.
Many prohibitionists saw it as their religious duty to encourage temperance, even through politics. Children were even used in the movement to march, sing and exert pressure at polling places. One of the leading organizations for National Prohibition, the Anti-Saloon League, stressed it’s religious character, and anything it did was seen as moral or justified because it was working for God. Decades later, their strong organization and political tactics paid off in the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, establishing national prohibition.
A leader of the Anti-Saloon League stated that before it’s passage in Congress, 13,000 business people who supported prohibition were given crucial instructions: We blocked the telegraph wires in Congress for three days. One of our friends sent seventy-five telegrams, each signed differently with the name of one his subordinates. The campaign was successful. Congress surrendered. The first to bear the white flag was Senator Warren Harding of Ohio. He told us frankly he was opposed to the amendment, but since it was apparent from the telegrams that the business world was demanding it he would submerge his own opinion and vote for submission. (Pollard, 107)
For decades prohibition had been advocated as the magical solution to the nation’s poverty, crime, and other indiscretions (Aaron and Musto, 157). However, almost immediately after the Eighteenth Amendment was imposed, alcohol was being made and consumed illegally. Grape juice began to sell as "bricks or blocks of Rhine Wine” along with a warning: "After dissolving the brick in a gallon of water, do not place the liquid in a jug away in the cupboard for twenty days, because then it would turn into wine" (Aaron and Musto, 159). Ironically, American alcohol production and consumption grew during the period of prohibition.
It encouraged high amounts of alcohol consumption in secretive, unregulated ways. "People did not take the trouble to go to a speakeasy, present the password, and pay high prices for very poor quality alcohol simply to have a beer. When people went to speakeasies, they went to get drunk. " (Zinberg and Fraser, 468). "Removing the alcohol from the norms of everyday society increased drinking problems. Without well-known prescriptions for use and commonly held sanctions against abuse, prohibition drinkers were left almost as defenseless as were the South American Indians in the face of Spanish rum and brandy. " (Zinberg and Fraser, 470).
Violence and corruption of public officials caused by prohibition only added to the list of problems. It became difficult to convict prohibition violators because public support for the law and its enforcement dramatically weakened. For example, of 7,000 arrests in New York between 1921 and 1923, only twenty-seven resulted in convictions (Lender and Martin, 154). Political views on the law began to shift as it’s ineffectiveness became evident. Even John D. Rockefeller, Jr. , a lifelong abstainer, announced his support for repeal of the eighteenth amendment, because of the widespread problems it caused (Prendergast, 44).
The popular vote for repeal of the eighteenth amendment was three to one, the American people rejected prohibition (Childs, 260-261). It is obvious that alcohol abuse was, and still is, an infinite problem faced by American adults and adolescents. Clearly permanently abstaining from alcohol is a mess as well. The solution, to find a healthy medium, is clear: allow Americans the consumption of alcohol, but restricting the age at which it can be consumed to twenty-one will support alcohol in moderation and promote lawfulness when consuming alcohol.
Underage Alcohol Abuse Alcohol use among teenagers is not uncommon. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine says, by the end of high school, about 75% of adolescents have tried alcohol, and more than half report having been drunk at least once in their life. “Alcohol is involved in more than one-third of the adolescent deaths associated with unintentional injury, homicide, and suicide” (Further and Fredrick). If the drinking age is lowered to 18, youth in this country will start drinking at younger and younger ages.
It will be much easier for 15 to 17 year olds to obtain alcohol via their 18 year old peers in high school (Fell). The abundance of alcohol will cause distractions to students studies as well as create dangers after hours. More accidents are bound to occur, and teens will be less likely to report medical need if they are under the influence, whether it be for fear of getting in trouble or just so drunk that they’re unaware of any sort of problem. A higher drinking age has proven to be beneficial to the health and safety of underaged women.
Adolescent drinking plays a significant role in risky sexual behavior, including unwanted, unintended, and unprotected sexual activity, and sex with multiple partners (Cooper and Orcutt). Such behavior increases the risk for unplanned pregnancy and for contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including infection with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS (Cooper et al. , 1994). If the drinking age is lowered below twenty-one, adolescents will feel more comfortable drinking more, inadvertently increasing the risk of physical and sexual assault among women (Staley, 1998).
Having alcohol in the body while you’re driving changes your distance and speed perception by making you see things farther or closer than they really are, or makes you feel like you’re driving the speed limit when you’re really speeding (Short and Long Term). Every day in America, another 27 people die as a result of drunk driving crashes (An Examination). Sixty percent of all teen deaths in car accidents are alcohol related, and, in a single year, 522 children under the age of 14 were arrested for driving while intoxicated (Teenage Drunk Driving).
“During the 1980s, the nation saw a reduction in alcohol-related fatal crashes, directly attributable to raising the legal minimum age for the sale and public possession of alcohol to age 21” (Statement) It is estimated that minimum drinking age laws have prevented nearly 25,000 fatalities since 1975: Fig. 1. Cumulative Estimated Number of Young Lives Saved by Minimum Drinking Age Laws, 1975-2007 (Traffic Safety Facts, Young Drivers, 2006). However, underaged drinking is still a problem.
High school teens drive after drinking about 2.4 million times a month (Teen Drinking and Driving). These numbers will only increase if the drinking age is lowered, because alcohol will be more readily available to adolescents, and misuse will be deadly. Blood alcohol content is the percentage of alcohol in the blood. All 50 states require that the legal blood alcohol content remain at . 08% or less when driving a motor vehicle. This means that . 08% of a person’s blood, by volume, is alcohol (The Code).
Teenage boys with a Blood Alcohol level of . 05%-.10% are 18 times more likely to suffer a single vehicle crash than a teenager with no alcohol in the bloodstream (Teenage Drunk Driving). That’s two beers in the course of one hour. Do you really want alcohol consumption to be legal for eighteen year olds? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Report of 1995 showed that raising the drinking age to twenty-one reduced teen traffic accidents significantly, and brought a thirteen percent decrease in fatal traffic accidents for all ages. Alcohol abuse has been a rising problem for the past three decades.
With continued exposure, the human body must adapt to increase the tolerance of alcohol. This involves an increase in the amount of the liver’s enzymes that are used to break down alcohol, and an increase in brain activity and nervous-system neurons (Freudenrich). These adaptations negatively change a person’s behavior. With long-term alcohol exposure, the body does become more efficient at eliminating alcohol in the blood, but this also means that the person must drink more alcohol to experience the same effects as before, which leads to more drinking and contributes to addiction.
Alcohol addiction, or alcoholism, is a chronic disease in which a person becomes physically dependent on alcohol (Watson). Not everyone who drinks alcohol heavily is considered an alcoholic. Those who drink enough to affect their family or job responsibilities, or drive while intoxicated, abuse alcohol, but they do not necessarily have a dependence on it. Alcoholics feel the need to drink, similarly to the way that most people feel the need to eat. There are many social factors that can cause one to develop alcoholism. Some include: peer pressure, advertising, and the environment.
Young people are extremely susceptible to peer pressure. Too many teenagers think it is acceptable to drink “because their friends are doing it. ” Adolescents who drink alcohol experience problems with brain development and learning. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says that people who begin drinking before age fifteen are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence at some time in their lives compared to those who have their first drink at age twenty or older. Lowering the drinking age would only create more alcohol addiction among adolescents.
Alcohol, in the long-term, disrupts normal brain development; causes permanent liver damage; kills brain cells, destroys organs; and causes heart problems such as heart attack, disease and stroke (Short and Long Term). The higher the legal drinking age is, the less likely alcohol will be a factor in a young adults death, and the more longevity of the average persons life. Reaffirming the Legal Drinking Age Believe it or not, there are exceptions to the law that makes it illegal for anyone under the age of twenty-one to consume alcohol.
In twenty-nine states, it’s legal for a minor to drink alcohol on private, non alcohol-selling premises, with parental consent, and eleven states allow for minors to have alcohol on alcohol-selling premises, with parental approval (ProCon. org). These exceptions to the law are extremely flawed. Alcohol affects minors in a way that is different to adults consuming alcohol. It’s legal for a minor to drink alcohol on private property with parental consent. What does that say if the parents are drunk themselves?
Parents under the influence would not give proper supervision to the minors drinking alcohol, and, therefore, greatly increase the risk of an accident. This exception needs to be abolished, because adolescents consuming alcohol has proven negative short-term and long-term consequences. Underage drinking is a leading contributor to death from injuries, which are the main cause of death for people under age twenty-one. “Annually, about 5,000 people under age 21 die from alcohol-related injuries involving underage drinking” (The Surgeon, 10).
About 1,600 deaths result from homicides and 300 from suicides (Teen Drinking and Driving). If adolescents are given permission by parents to drink alcohol, then they will assume that they can get away with alcohol consumption in their homes when their parents are not around. This can lead to dangerous parties with underaged alcohol consumption. Many rights have different ages of initiation. A person can obtain a hunting license at age twelve, driver's license at age sixteen, vote and serve in the military at eighteen, serve in the U. S.
House of Representatives at age twenty-five and in the U. S. Senate at age thirty and run for President at age thirty-five (Wagenaar and Toomey). “The minimum age of initiation is based on the specific behavior involved and must take into account the dangers and benefits of that behavior at a given age” (Wagenaar and Toomey). The policy for alcohol consumption at age twenty-one takes into account the fact that underage drinking is related to numerous serious problems, including injuries and deaths resulting from car crashes, suicide, homicide, assault, drowning and recreational injuries.
One argument for lowering the legal drinking age is that nineteen and twenty year-olds are drinking anyway, so why not legalize it so they will drink in controlled settings? Research shows that about half of drivers arrested for driving while intoxicated (DWI) or killed as drinking drivers in traffic crashes, did their drinking at licensed establishments (An Examination). Most other foreign countries have a lower drinking age than America. It is argued that alcohol is a bigger part of the European family than it is part of the American family.
Many have argued that a high drinking age forces young people to drink without adult supervision, on the contrary making it legal for eighteen to twenty year-olds to drink alcohol causes worse problems because of the abundance of drinking that takes place. For example, in New Zealand, the drinking age was lowered from twenty to eighteen in 1999. After the drinking age was lowered to eighteen, there was a significant increase in traffic crashes among youth affected by the law change (Kypri et al., 126-131).
About half of the European countries have intoxication rates among young people that are higher than the intoxication rates in the United States (Comparison). This evidence proves that younger drinking ages are hazardous to the health of adolescents, which, is why the American minimum legal drinking age should stay at twenty-one. Research has proven that keeping the age at which one can legally consume alcohol at twenty-one is best for American’s and their well being.
In ancient times, alcohol in moderation was seen as a way of life, but modern day has consistently shown the need for regulation of alcoholic drinking. The problem with identifying the optimum minimum drinking age, to reduce alcohol abuse, involves many issues of freedom, responsibility, religion, politics and many other realms of life (Alcohol). America’s past has shown that making the consumption of alcohol illegal to everyone is a disaster. Keeping the legal drinking age at twenty-one is the best solution, because it promotes healthier drinking habits for everyone, especially the future’s adults.
Keeping the legal age at twenty-one reduces the amount of death and injury; sexually transmitted diseases and abuse; and addiction. The public should be informed on the risks and negative effects to one’s health when drinking too much alcohol. Keep in mind the harmful short- and long-term affects alcohol has on the body. The next time you decide to sit down and have a drink, or two, or three, remember the lasting harmful effects that will ensue, especially if your still growing and developing.
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