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Should We Lower the Drinking Age?

By Victoria Foster

Student at Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School, Washington, DC.

Lowering the drinking age should not be up for debate. Teenagers who drink are not only a danger to themselves, but to others as well, especially when driving.

The drinking age was actually first lowered to 18 in many states during the Vietnam War. During this time, the number of alcohol-related accidents began to rise exponentially, and a significant percentage involved young drivers. And so, once again, the drinking age was increased to 21.

“It requires a great deal of responsibility to drink in a safe manner,” said a Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School Science Teacher. “There are many people that say the age should be lowered to 18 but I feel there are a number of new responsibilities one has to deal with during college years and adding drinking to the mix is a mistake. Sometimes I think the age should be raised to 25.”

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, while the drinking age was 21, the number of traffic fatalities involving 18 to 20-year-old drivers has decreased by 13 percent, saving an estimated 19,121 lives since 1975. Out of 29 studies, between 1981 and 1992, 20 showed that there were significant decreases in traffic crashes and fatalities after a raise in the drinking age.

“Teens aren’t responsible enough to be drinking,” A Visitation student said,  “especially because of all the nonalcoholic pressures already on them.”

Another said, “The drinking age should stay because it was put at that age to keep kids safe. It’s really only there to protect, not to punish.”

Due to the dynamic changes the brain goes through in adolescence, alcohol can seriously harm the brain. A high rate of energy is used as the brain develops until age 20. Alcoholic damage can trigger long-term effects and can be permanent.

“Our bodies are different then people over 21 and react differently to alcohol,” said a sophomore.

The Community of Concern cautions that drinking under age 21 can have serious negative results, such as addiction, brain damage, and risky behavior. “Learning to drink during adolescence is neither a rite of passage nor a part of growing up.” The younger a person is when introduced to alcohol, the more likely it is for he or she to develop a lifelong dependence on alcohol.

Also, recent studies show that the adolescent brain reacts differently to alcohol than an adult brain. Short-term or moderate drinking affects adolescents’ learning ability and memory drastically more than adults. They only need to drink half as much as adults do to suffer the same negative results. Although it is widely believed that adolescents may be able to drink more than an adult would be able to before having to stop, an adolescent’s mental ability, judgment, and decision-making skills are severely impaired at lower amounts of alcohol consumption. Said the Community of Concern, “A teenager may be awake enough to get behind the wheel after drinking, but incompetent to make the necessary judgments to drive safely.”

President of the Buddies Against Drunk Driving (B.A.D.D.), a club of Visitation’s, said, “The combination of drinking and driving is very dangerous but the risk increases with younger drivers because, not only are they new drivers, but they would also be new drinkers and do not have the knowledge to know their limits.”

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (M.A.D.D.) has researched and found that young brains are vulnerable to hazardous effects of alcohol, especially concerning learning and memory function. Then young people who drink may be “powerfully impairing the brain functions on which they rely so heavily for learning.”  And “So, in case there wasn't enough pressure to perform at school, at your job, or just in life, alcohol can prevent your use of your own brain.”

Drinking alcohol can cause emotional pain as well. “Although I have not personally experienced drunk driving, my best friend died in a drunk driving accident last October. The reason why she decided to drive was because she thought she could handle herself and that she was not drunk,” said B.A.D.D. President. “She did not have the experience to know that she was unfit to drive – and that is the problem with teenagers driving drunk.”

A Visitation student agreed: “Kids shouldn’t be drinking, period.”