Alcohol Laws Don't Work

Another year has began, and with it another doomed Augustana campaign to combat underage drinking on campus.
This isn’t the colleges fault, of course. Rather, it’s the fault of a country that wrongly believes banning alcohol prevents drinking.
In 1984, when the National Minimum Drinking Age Act was passed and the drinking age was raised to 21, it caused a decrease in drunk driving and slightly lowered the amount of 18-20 year olds who drank. Stopping there, people may argue that the law must have worked – and it did- in those regards. But I disagree about what this tells us.
Ignoring the astounding progress in safety technology, and increased education on alcohol, I believe drunk driving has decreased due social changes. The fact is, nearly everyone, starting from high school age, knows that driving while drunk is idiotic and selfish.
My evidence lies in the simple fact that we (18-20 year olds) are still drinking. According to John Hopkins University, 48% of alcohol on college campuses is drank underage. According to the Centers for Disease Control, underage drinking accounts for 11% of U.S. alcohol consumption. So while drinking laws may have declined drinking originally, we can’t really tell anymore. Regardless, those drivers you intended to keep alcohol from are still drinking.
Secondly, studies have shown that alcohol abuse has actually increased in “underage” drinkers since 1984. To avoid risking punishment, the culture of cramming as many drinks into your body in the shortest amount of time has become mainstream.
The effect of the minimum drinking age laws infantilizes would-be responsible adults. Instead of students drinking casually and safely, they turn to unhealthy alternatives. According to the CDC, 90% of drinks consumed by underage drinkers is in the form of binge drinking. While there would have been this culture otherwise, it would have at least been minimized.
The fact is, this article could be stretched into a book, discussing at length every single flaw with our drinking age laws, from the inconsistency between what an “adult” is in the U.S., to how it fueled a dangerous clandestine culture, but we’ve all heard them. I’d rather address the two main arguments in favor of the laws: Health and drunk driving rates.
Proponents minimum age laws will tell you that alcohol can damage your brain, especially when it’s still developing. Alcohol doesn’t become healthy after 21 years old. The same goes for tobacco, weed, or even fast-food for that matter.
The fact is, people shouldn’t be able to tell you what you can and cannot consume when you’re an adult. Alcohol isn’t good for you at 18, 100, or any year in between. Educate people and actually enforce your laws, but don’t babysit them.
To address point two, drunk driving rates declined after 1984. And that’s fantastic. But, of course they would. And I bet they would drop even further if you banned cars, too.
In an article from Boston University Today, Dr. William DeJong (who is considered an expert on alcohol education) discussed the benefits of the 1984 drinking laws. According to Dr. DeJong, the decline in drunk driving deaths was directly related to raising the minimum age. “There’s a whole literature showing that whatever policy is in place that makes alcohol more accessible, the more problems you have,” he said.
But thats the whole thing. Take any group of people, any age group, and ban them from drinking, and those rates will go down. It’s funny to me that they would be willing to ban younger people rather than themselves, when legally, we are both supposed to be adults.
The alcohol laws in place do more damage to society than good. In reality, drinking laws have catalysed a culture of alcohol abuse, resentment towards the law and haven’t actually prevented drinking.
Perhaps a solution isn’t to remove any regulation of young people’s drinking, but at least start reforming laws that haven’t actually worked.
If there is one thing I have learned at Augustana, it’s that complex problems have complex solutions. Simplistically banning adults from drinking hasn’t been our “silver bullet”.